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/ lywju 


MAJOR Ki.r>R]-;i> POTTINT.ER, C.P., 184' 

(from aju'.l-'engtk portrait by Leechey.) 







"India, fertile in heroes, has shown since the days of Clife 
no man of greater or earlier promise than Eldred Pottinger. Yet, 
hero as he was, you might have sat for weeks beside him at 
table and never discovered that he had seen a shot fired." 


" Things gained, are gone j 

But great things done endure." 










M. D. 


IN these days of hurried reading and writing the pre- 
face proper has almost died the death. But in giving an 
artistic form to the life study of an actual man it becomes 
needful to forestall the natural imputation that such a 
form may have been used as a cloak for inaccuracy, or 
as a means of " improving " upon life by a judicious 
seasoning of fact with fiction. 

For this reason I would have it clearly understood that 
no pains have been spared to make this, in every sense, a 
true record of the man and of the stirring events in which 
he took part. Even in respect of conversations, which 
must of necessity be clothed with words of my own, I 
have introduced very few save among minor native 
characters of which the gist is not given either in 
personal accounts or in Pottinger's long and detailed 
letters to Government from Herat. 

Above all, in touching upon the many delicate and 
difficult points in that chapter of blunders and disasters, 
the first Afghan War, I have done my utmost to see 
clearly and present fairly a very complex subject, and 
have set down nothing whether it were fact or speech 
of those concerned that I have not verified more than 
once in the many personal and historical accounts I have 
studied during the last two years. 

It only remains that I tender my grateful thanks and 
acknowledgments to all those who have in any way 
helped me to make this record of a brave man's career as 


complete and truthful as I could wish; more especially 
to the present Major Eldred Pottinger, R.A., and other 
members of his family for the use of letters, journals, and 
photographs ; to Major Broadfoot, R.E., and Mrs. Colin 
Mackenzie, whose first edition of Sir Vincent Eyre's 
journal, interleaved with her husband's notes, proved a 
mine of wealth ; to the Record Office authorities in Cal- 
cutta and Bombay for copies of letters not to be found at 
home ; and, above all, to the India Office authorities in 
London for countless books borrowed and for free access 
to the MS. Records, whence I drew all that is told of 
Herat in Book III, from Pottinger 's own letters to 
Government, and without which the story of his life 
would have been lamentably incomplete. 

The authorities most frequently quoted are Sir John 
Kaye and Sir Henry Durand. 

With regard to the problem of spelling Indian and 
Afghan names it seemed best, in most cases, to adopt the 
more modern fashion, and the following short guide to 
vowel sounds should obviate mispronunciation 

a = cw. in = een. 

a = u in but. ai = as * in vine. 

i = 6 = as in note. 

ir = eer. u = oo. 

September 1911. 


"A HERO? I don't quite know what that is. But I 
imagine a hero is a man who does what he can. The 
others do not." 

Thus Romain Holland in Jean Christophe : and a 
definition so low-toned, so entirely devoid of cheap 
glamour, seems a fitting introduction to a hero as in- 
curably modest as he was essentially heroic in the largest 
sense of that much-abused word. 

But men died early in those tumultuous decades when 
the last half of our Indian Empire was in the making ; 
and to Eldred Pottinger the end came before he had 
attained to the fullness of power that was in him. For a 
few years England and India resounded with his name. 
Again a few years and Death overtook him. By then 
India was upon the eve of the first Sikh War, that brought 
to birth as is the way of war a fresh outcrop of heroes. 
'47 brought the second Sikh War ; '49 the conquest of 
the Punjab ; '57 the Great Revolt. Indian events moved 
swiftly in those days ; heroes multiplied ; and, with the 
inexorable onward sweep of history, the man who had writ 
his name upon one page of it slipped out of the minds of 
all save students of that particular period. 

66 So little is now remembered of this self-denying, 
heroic officer," wrote Mrs. Colin Mackenzie in '79, and 
in 1912 how much less ! Of what avail, then, to record 
the remarkable events of Eldred Pottinger 's all too brief 


career in a "Life " of the usual pattern? Considering 
this, I have chosen rather to make it the basis of a 
character study worked out through the chances and 
changes of that disastrous historical drama the first 
Afghan War. 

For closer acquaintance with the man reveals a 
character peculiarly well worth considering in detail by 
a generation of English men and women who tend, more 
and more, to set expedience above principle, and to rate 
personal success however ephemeral, however attained 
as a man's sole claim to distinction. 

In the lucrative qualities, admired of a commercial age, 
Eldred Pottinger was woefully lacking. He had neither 
moral adaptability nor personal push. None the less did 
he achieve his hour of glory ; though it must be confessed 
he stumbled upon it almost in his own despite, and 
certainly failed to make capital of it from a worldly point 
of view. Fool or idealist which you will : it all hinges 
on the point of view. Yet, fool or no, " England needs 
Pottingers, not place-seekers," though she only admits 
that need in the hour of national trouble ; and, even so, 
appreciates them best at a distance or wherever her trouble 
is acute. In times of peace, when men worship the golden 
calf called Business, when their souls are dwarfed by its 
monetary standards, its mean and selfish expedients, Eng- 
land frankly prefers the man of talent to the man of 
great character. His ready pliability, his keen eye to the 
main chance, and, above all, his tact in accepting, with- 
out seeming to perceive, his senior's commercial view of 
life, make him infinitely simpler and pleasanter to deal 
with ; while England, confident in her long-suffering Star, 
justifies herself by the not unfounded reflection that when 
the crisis comes, there will be no lack of " uncomfortable, 
irritating heroes to pick her chestnuts out of the fire." 


So it ever has been ; so, no doubt, it ever will be ; and 
of such was Eldred Pottinger, in all respects true to type ; 
though in him the more effective heroism of the born 
fighter was infused and mellowed by the innate, self- 
effacing heroism of the man. In truth, during his short 
eventful spell of Afghan service, his soldierly qualities 
seldom had full scope. Those years of suffering and 
fortitude, culminating in misinterpretation and injustice, 
tended rather to strengthen the unquestioning religious 
faith, the large nobility of soul, which he shared with 
that galaxy of men Nicholson, Outram, the Lawrences, 
to name but a few who established British rule in the 
Punjab, and established also an ideal of British character 
that remains unshaken to this day. It is a significant 
feature of that same galaxy that none among them was 
ashamed to show forth his faith in God whether to white 
men or brown not only with his lips, but with his life. 
Far from faultless, and differing widely, with all the 
individual differences of strong natures, in this respect 
they were as one man they feared God ; but they feared 
nothing else in heaven or earth. 

To this immortal company Eldred Pottinger indubit- 
ably belongs. Had the Mutiny come about earlier, or 
had he even lived through the Sikh wars, his name would 
have been set beside theirs upon India's scroll of honour. 
Instead like those noble brothers, the Broadfoots and 
Conollys he died untimely and was too soon forgotten : 
though that "untimely death," writes Henry Lawrence, 
" adds tenderness to the interest with which we treasure 
up all recollections of him." 

Yet in one regard he stands apart even from these; 
lacking, as he does, the slightly self-conscious, didactic 
and, in some cases, narrow religiosity of the true Early 
Victorian type. His letters and journals are singularly 


free from that distinctive note of the period. He had 
something of the modern man's reserve in the matter of 
religion ; while yet the simple, selfless spontaneity of his 
good impulses links him rather with the earlier pioneer 
saints of Christendom : not the devotees of hair shirt, 
knotted cord and morbid self-abasement; but the type 
inimitably etched by Coventry Patmore in a passage worth 
quoting since it portrays with singular felicity the inmost 
nature of the man 

"The * Saint ' has no fads. You may live in the 
same house with him and never find out that he is 
not a sinner like yourself ; unless you rely on nega- 
tive proofs, or obtrude lax ideas on him, and so 
provoke him to silence. ... On the whole he will 
give you an agreeable impression of general inferiority 
to yourself. You must not, however, presume on 
this inferiority so far as to offer him an affront : for 
he will be sure to answer you with some quiet, unex- 
pected remark, showing a presence of mind arising, 
I suppose, from the presence of God which will 
make you feel you have struck a rock and only shaken 
your own shoulder. If you compel him to speak 
about religion he will probably surprise and 
scandalize you by the childishness of his thoughts." 

And here is the conclusion of the whole matter 

" The Saint does everything that any other decent 
person does ; only somewhat better and with a totally 
different motive." 

In those two words you have the keynote of the whole. 
However humanly faulty, or fallible in action, yet from 
first to last, purity of motive stamped and revealed the 
man. He himself, I doubt not, is, by this time fore- 


damned in the eyes of a livelier generation, among whom, 
too often, the old-time fear of the Lord has given place 
to a genuine and over-mastering fear of being bored ; a 
conviction that virtue spells dullness and should be con- 
cealed, like a vice, from a world that must at all costs be 
amused. That the virtuous may be and too often are 
supremely dull, is no argument in point, since their dull- 
ness arises not from the lamentable fact that they are 
good ; but from the still more lamentable fact that their 
goodness is merely negative like themselves. 

Now there is a vague general impression abroad, one 
hard to be dispelled, that virtue itself is negative, and 
vice positive, therefore attractive. Never was a state- 
ment so fundamentally false. The very derivation of the 
word (virtue) warns us that it is something positive, 
expressing itself in action, not in mere refraining ; and 
when one has ventured to label a man "Saint," there is 
imperative need to insist upon this vital quality of action ; 
to reiterate, even at the risk of lapsing into a truism that 
" virtue is strong where character is strong ; and strong 
character has its perilous imperfections." 

So with Eldred Pottinger ; for all his quiet self-efface- 
ment and power of endurance, the man was a soldier in 
the grain ; and as such essentially masculine, positive, 
hot-blooded : a force to be reckoned with, whatever his 
environment, and a force that made for righteousness as 
water makes for its own level. His courage, moral and 
physical, was equal to any occasion. He could and did 
suffer all things in a resolute stillness ; but he would 
not suffer evil unrebuked. He would come to no com- 
promise with the world and its shifty standards of con- 
duct, even were it to avoid friction with his seniors. In 
consequence, like Nicholson with whom he had much 
in common he was seldom popular with those same 


seniors, and society at large found him a dull fellow 

Witness Sir John Kaye's account of Calcutta's failure 
to lionize him, when he appeared there as the hero of 

"The impression he made upon society in general 
was not favourable. He was shy and reserved and 
unwilling to speak of himself. He did not realize, 
in his person, his conversation or his manner, their 
idea of a youthful hero, and therefore thoughtless 
people were disappointed. But to the more thought- 
ful few he appeared precisely the man from whom 
such good deeds, as had made him famous, were to 
be expected. Heroism takes many shapes. In 
Eldred Pottinger it took the shape of a sturdy, 
indomitable perseverance a courage, great in resist- 
ance to overwhelming odds ; but there was nothing 
showy or impetuous about it. In all these respects 
the personal aspect and demeanour of the man 
represented his inward qualities." 

And it is the privilege of all who attempt the high 
task of recreating such men to reveal the hidden workings 
of those very inward qualities in so far as a process so 
secret can be truthfully set forth. 

In Eldred Pottinger 's case the attempt at recreation 
has not been made easier by the man's exceeding reserve 
and incapacity for self-expression ; nor by the fact that 
many of his most important letters and journals have 
been irrevocably lost ; notably the detailed journal from 
May 1837 to September 1839, which contained the sole 
existing account of the Herat siege from within the walls. 
All that now remains of the original are extracts given 
in Sir John Kaye's history of the first Afghan War. 


The probability is that the MS. was burnt with many 
other precious documents in a disastrous fire that broke 
out in Kaye's rooms. 

Whether or no Eldred Pottinger left a lasting mark on 
the stormy history of his time is, after all, a matter of 
little moment. The unfinished column may yet bear the 
stamp of perfection ; and the man's greatness stands 
assured by qualities of character, common not merely 
to his own nation and period, but to the heroes of all 
nations, for all time. And if, as I hope to prove, his 
acquaintance is worth making, simply by reason of what 
he was, the interest of his personal story is heightened 
and enlarged by the fact that he was fated to play a 
leading part in one of the darkest political dramas of our 
Anglo-Indian experience : a drama springing from an 
initial act of injustice and thereinafter moving on, with 
cumulative, grim intensity, to the inevitable end. 

But no tragedy enacted by man, that " most strange 
and consoling of earth's meteors," can be so altogether 
dark, that true insight shall fail to discern one window 
which looks to the sky. 

' ' And have we wept, 
And have we quailed with fears ? 
Or shrunk with horror ? Sure reward 
Have we, whom knowledge crowns, 
Who see, thro' mould, the rose unfold, 
The soul, thro' blood and tears." 


EXPLORER ..... 1 

SOLDIER . . 75 






At end of Book 


Hail and farewell ! I must arise, 

Leave here the fatted cattle ; 
And paint on foreign lands and skies 

My Odyssey of battle. 

The imtented Kosmos my abode 

I pass, a wilful stranger ; 
My Mistress still the open road 

And the bright eyes of Danger. 

Come ill or well, the cross, the crown, 

The rainbow or the thunder 
I fling my soul and body down, 

For God to plough them under. 

R. L. S. 


"BEHOLD, Sahib nestling, like a bride in the rough 
embrace of the hills Kabul, City of Orchards! " 

The speaker, a benevolent-looking Syud l from Pishin, 
drew rein in speaking, and pride vibrated in his tone, as 
he turned to gauge the impression made on his companion, 
who had rather the aspect of a fair-skinned Afghan 
merchant than of a Sahib. Only the clear Irish blue of 
his eyes betrayed him and the quiet deep-toned voice 
when he made answer: "Truly a jewel among valleys, 
Syud-jee : a jewel that gleams the fairer for its rugged 

The Afghan nodded, well content; and there fell a 
long silence, while Eldred Pottinger looked away across 
the valley, his adventurous spirit stirred, not so much 
by beauty seen, as by the nameless magnetism of the 
Other Side. 

Yet, for the moment, it was almost enough to realize 
that at last, after seventy-five days of rough going, 
hardship and hazard, he had achieved the first stage of 
his journey toward the ultimate, unseen goal of his 
dreams : to feast eyes and mind upon that jewel among 
valleys wedged between granite heights that darkly chal- 
lenged the blue ; their scarred summits loftier and more 
rugged than any he had yet seen. For now the north- 
ward view culminated in towering snow-peaks of the 
Hindu Kush ; peaks with which he was to become tragic- 
1 Holy man. 

B 2 


ally intimate before his work in this stony-hearted region 
was done. He was destined also to see the City of 
Orchards under aspects many and terrible : but never, 
surely, did he forget that first vision of her, veiled, like 
some purdah princess, beneath a sari wrought in green 
and silver and rose, with all the blossoms of all the fruit 
trees in the world. But beneath her silver sari this 
princess was a libertine at heart; even as her women 
behind their latticed boorkhas were past mistresses in the 
immemorial art of intrigue ; and her men, beneath their 
hospitality, courage and rough good-humour, were un- 
equalled in cunning, cruelty and revenge. 

None the less, in outward seeming, no city on earth 
could show fairer than Kabul in this her season of resur- 
rection after the long dominion of snow. For beyond 
the orchards lay the cornfields, still pools of jade rippled 
by a light wind from the north, that blows year in, year 
out, giving all the trees a southward tilt. And beyond 
the fields upon every ledge and terrace, vineyards, vine- 
yards and again vineyards, set in long furrows that 
ensured the young plants much of sun and little of wind. 
Even up the snow-crowned slopes of the Pughman hills, 
that merge into the Hindu Kush, furrow climbed beyond 
furrow, till it was hard to see where cultivation ended 
and wild began. 

And there were gardens also, aflame with colour : the 
King's garden upon the north side of the city; and on 
the west, flower-filled terraces climbed to Baber's tomb ; 
the purity of the marble gleaming undimmed from out 
the dark of massed evergreens and giant planes. Below, 
upon the plain, a great lake slept in silver, and Kabul 
river, drunk with new libations from the hills, went 
swirling and singing through an avenue of mulberry trees, 
their young leaves gleaming like amber in the sun. 


Only the hills overhanging the city seemed to stand 
savagely aloof, black and castellated masses of rock un- 
responsive to the throb of life ; their lower spurs crowned, 
fitly, by a grey citadel fortress, the Bala Hissar of all 
big Afghan towns. In Kabul it served alike for royal 
palace and prison and fort. Set very high and doubly 
fortified, with machicolated ramparts and bastions, it was 
the one point of strength in a capital singularly defence- 
less, though all the near hills bristled with ineffectual 
walls, by way of defence against marauding chiefs. 

And Eldred Pottinger's gaze, following his thoughts, 
lingered, not upon Kabul and her orchards, but upon 
those same harsh overhanging hills, through which ran 
the direct route to Herat, that he must by all means be 
the first of his race to tread. At the prospect a gleam 
of anticipation lightened his grave eyes, and he turned 
eagerly upon the good friend who had led him in safety 
through the wild districts between Kabul and Pishin. 

" How long, think you, must I tarry in your City of 
Orchards before it is possible to push on across the 
Hazara highlands? " 1 

Syud Mohun Shah gravely considered the young, stead- 
fast face. "Your Honour's heart is set on reaching 
Herat by way of that perilous, unfriendly country, where- 
in no Feringhi 2 hath ventured yet? " 

Yes, for that very reason his Honour's heart was set 
upon the daring project. His decisive nod signified as 
much ; and the Syud not all unacquainted with the 
pertinacity of the young British officer beamed genially, 
in spite of disapproval. 

"Then must the Sahib rest content to bide, yet awhile, 
in Kabul City, and study to achieve a disguise more 
complete than any assumed hitherto. Give ear O son 
1 See Map at the end . 2 Foreigner. 


of heroes! to the voice of wisdom. In this land, if a 
stranger would travel unmolested, he must be either a 
holy man or a Sahib." 

" And in the Hazara country, where Sahibs come not, 
he is condemned to holiness ! " Pottinger inferred, 
smiling. "An art difficult to acquire." 

4 'Nay, but for holiness of the heart your Honour 
standeth already in high repute. Only to gain knowledge 
of outward forms, that are the garment of the spirit, there 
is need for closer study of Afghan custom and doctrine. 
In this respect I would commend my proven friends, Syud 
Ahmed and Syud Hussain, honest men, both, and good 
Sunnis ; Hussain, in particular, being learned in the law. 
It hath been told me that they have business in Herat this 
summer. If they will adventure in the Hazara region, 
and if your Honour will agree to join them, in the guise 
of a Sunni Mahomedan, all may yet go well." 

" Agree? It is for your friends to agree rather, Syud- 
jee. If they will accept the risk of escorting a stranger, 
unpractised and clumsy at concealment, I can only prove 
my gratitude by studying to make that risk as slight as 
may be. For yourself, my friend, I know not how to 
requite your unfailing care and service in these two 

"Nay, nay, Sahib, that is a trifling matter," the good 
man protested, genuinely moved. " It is but as a bucket 
of water from the deep well of my desire to be counted 
a true friend of the English and find favour in the eyes 
of their Government. On reaching Kabul, if your 
Honour permit, I go at once to the good Nawab Jubbur 
Khan. If there be one corner of Afghanistan where men 
of your race be welcome, it is at the Court of Dost 
Mahomed Khan, A mir-i-Kabir. " * 

1 The great Amir. 


Pottinger nodded, well content. " Even so I have 
heard. Let us go forward then, without more delay. 
But remember, no word of my further journey, save to 
those I shall join." 

"Fear not, Sahib. In all other company I am dumb 
as a week-old corpse! Let us go on." 

They went on accordingly : a shabby cavalcade of hill 
ponies and baggage mules, so much the worse for travel 
that they could scarce achieve the last few miles. And 
Eldred Pottinger, riding ahead along the narrow track, 
forgot the ache of weariness in his limbs because of the 
high hope in his heart. 

Two months earlier he had left, without a pang, such 
society and civilization as obtained on the Sindh frontier 
in the first year of Victoria's reign, and fared forth to- 
wards Afghanistan and adventure by the little-known 
Beloochistan route, which, in those restless days of expan- 
sion, was reckoned the road to fame. 

But of the last Eldred Pottinger dreamed not at all. 
The spell of the North-west Border country, and the true 
explorer's zest for the unknown these had been the spurs 
that pricked him forward upon a year-long journey of 
uncertain issue, but of certain hardship, hazard and 
banishment from his kind. 

His first step northward had been achieved by an 
exchange from the Bombay Artillery into the Kutch 
Irregular Horse. Here cavalry experience had been 
added to gunnery practice ; and he had gone through the 
mill of frontier outpost duty, a mill unrivalled then, as 
now, for conjuring raw boys into soldiers of the first 
quality. Here, too, he had come into close contact with 
his uncle, Colonel Henry Pottinger, then Resident in 
Kutch : a political of high character, already marked 
for distinction. He knew and approved young Eldred 's 


spirit of enterprise. His own had lured him in a like 
direction thirteen years before. But much valuable work 
still remained to be done, work for which this hot- 
headed, lion-hearted nephew of his seemed supremely well 

So it had come about that in the foregoing summer 
Eldred had proffered his services for exploring and survey- 
ing the countries west of the Indus, in a formal 
application endorsed by a sincere tribute from his Com- 
mandant. "If my estimate of his character, after long 
acquaintance, be not incorrect," wrote Captain Ward, " I 
should say he is peculiarly fitted for the employment he 
covets by a natural and ardent desire for travelling, com- 
bined with much patience and temper in the endurance 
of many and severe privations." And a man had need 
of patience in those leisurely days when a letter posted 
in July did not receive Government sanction till October, 
and when the addition of a few needful instruments in- 
volved another three months' delay. But there had been 
much to do and think of during the hours off duty, which 
were few : Pushtoo and Persian to be studied ; routes to 
be discussed and mapped out with the uncle who loved 
him as a father, and whose own book published ten years 
earlier had fired his zeal to go and do likewise whenever 
opportunity offered. 

And now, behold, the dream translated into reality ; 
the subaltern into an explorer, armed, secretly, with 
books and instruments for so much of military surveying 
as could be achieved without risk of detection. There, 
at his feet, lay Kabul in her spring sdri. Four or five 
weeks should see him at Herat ; and once there all Asia 
lay before him. Could heart of man ask more? The 
call of the Road, voiceless yet insistent, the glory of going 


on, that works like madness in the blood, was strong upon 
him. From boyhood onward he had felt himself brother 
in spirit to the restless army of pioneers, the makers of 
Greater Britain. For him, as for them, the skyline was 
at once a challenge and a lure : a " voice as bad as con- 
science " whispering : I am here. Come and find me. 
And now, after ten years of zealous, uneventful service 
in Artillery and Irregular Horse, Fate had given him 
his chance. 

What he would make of it remained to be seen. But 
there was that in the mien of the bearded Gunner subaltern 
which augured well for any project of his undertaking. 
The blue eyes and warm brown of the beard temporarily 
darkened with colour juice belonged to a soldierly 
temper ; high-spirited, passionate ; a great fighter in the 
making. Even at six-and-twenty the spirit that could 
so dare and so endure brooded in the grave tenderness 
of the eyes. The discerning could read promise of it in 
the resolute under lip ; in the brow's commanding nobility 
and breadth, half hidden though it was beneath the 
folds of his turban. The undiscerning saw him only as 
a sturdy-looking subaltern, too shy and reserved for 
carpet uses, and far less at home between four walls than 
in camp or jungle a man one would more readily appeal 
to at a crisis than invite to dinner. And assuredly the 
first would have been more to his taste. In the past two 
months he had neither sat at a dinner table, nor used a 
fork, nor spoken with one of his own race. But he was 
not the man to quarrel with trifling drawbacks, and these 
things were in the bond. 

Following the way of the river, he and his party entered 
Kabul through the south gate, a mere narrowing of rocks 
to a defile, whereby the river enters also and flows 
through the length of the city, which still lay some way 


ahead. Another mile of gardens, and lo! the Char 
Chutta, at that time still a remarkable remnant of Ali 
Merdan Khan's grand bazaar. The four covered streets, 
each one hundred and fifty feet long, were built of un- 
burnt brick and roughly frescoed in red, purple and 
green, their carven shop-fronts stacked with wonders of 
embroidery and jewellery, guns and chain armour, rugs 
and furs ; earthen jars for water drinkers, and for tea- 
drinkers great pots of iron, in which the Afghan delights 
to stew it with salt and ghee. The space between was 
thronged, as of custom, with men from all parts of Asia, 
with horses, dogs, camels and strayed fowls. For 
Afghans, like the French, have their own cheerful, casual 
life of the street. Iced drinks were tossed off, kabobs 
prepared and eaten, there in the midst of the noisy stream 
of life that flows through every great bazaar in Asia. 

It had been settled that Pottinger should wait at the 
serai while the Syud went on to see the Amir and arrange 
for a suitable lodging. He was not gone long; and in 
his absence the others amused themselves bargaining and 
drinking faloda a delectable wheat jelly mixed with 
sherbet and snow. Presently he brought word that any 
British officer would be welcome in the house of Nawab 
Jubbur Khan, brother of the Amir. One traveller was 
there already : reputed French. So to the house of 
Jubbur Khan they went; down a mean and dirty lane, 
through a great gate into a courtyard gay with flowers 
and enclosed by a two-storied building of the most primi- 
tive pattern. Not a pane of glass or a fireplace had ever 
been seen in Kabul; but such comforts as the house 
afforded were vry much at Pottinger's service, and 
welcome enough after the rough and tumble of the road. 

In the rooms that were to be his he was greeted by 
the "French officer, 11 who turned out'to be Harlan, the 


clever, unscrupulous American adventurer, formerly 
physician to the Lion of Lahore, and now in the employ 
of Dost Mahomed Khan. To Pottinger *s surprise, he 
wore English clothes, and still more amazing gave him 
an English dinner, such as he had not eaten since leaving 
Kutch. Better than all were the cigars that followed 
and the joy of speaking in his own tongue. Like most 
egoists, Harlan was a ready talker : and the tale of his 
crazy adventures lost nothing in the telling. 

It was all sufficiently new and amusing to Pottinger, 
who could no more have dilated upon his own doings for 
two hours at a stretch than have bidden the sun stand 
still. When it was over he slept in luxury upon a string 
"charpoy " for the first time in seventy-six days. 

And Kabul's ruler slept also in the fullness of power, 
untroubled by foreknowledge that the days were at hand 
when the greater nation to which he looked confidently 
for help should, in terrible fashion, accept his figurative 
invitation to consider himself and his country as its own. 
Yet were the hidden makers of drama already at work ; 
the theatre set ; the prologue prepared ; and with the 
entrance of Eldred Pottinger into Kabul, the first actor 
had appeared upon the scene. 


FOR the better part of three months Eldred Pottinger 
stayed in the house of Nawab Jubbur Khan, an Afghan 
of greater foresight, depth and moderation than any of 
the Barakzai brothers not excepting the Amir. 

Owing to a break in Pottinger 's journal the reasons for 
this long delay are not quite clear. No doubt May was 
too early for crossing the Hazara highlands ; and there 
was need as Mohun Shah had said for closer study of 
the language, life and customs of the Afghans, to say 
nothing of the religion he must now assume; a form of 
mockery so distasteful to him that he had kept clear of 
it hitherto. Meantime, though delay might be irksome, 
it gave him leisure to make friends with his new comrades 
of the road ; to elaborate maps and fill in later items of 
the route. Letters also, long and detailed, must be 
written to the uncle whose devotion he returned with 
interest ; to younger brothers in Bombay and Bengal ; and 
to Mount Pottinger, County Down, the happy-go-lucky 
Irish home whence he had set out ten years earlier with 
intent to conquer the world ! The despatching of these 
was a costly and uncertain business ; the Kasid l demanding 
his six or eight rupees in advance, and the letters' ultimate 
fate hanging upon the Oriental's misty sense of time and 
responsibility. This had been brought home to him by 
an incident on the upward march through Sindh ; when one 
of his Afghan companions a non-commissioned officer 

1 Runner. 



returning home on leave had received at the hands of a 
clansman a travelled scrap of paper, which had been 
pursuing him at random for over two years. 

But, risk or no, letters must be despatched on the bare 
chance that some day they would arrive somewhere : and 
at times the big, lone heart of the man shrank, in pros- 
pect, from the spells of desolation ahead, when month 
might follow month without bringing him a word from 
friends in India or from those he loved at home. Himself 
an only child, left motherless at two years old, his father's 
second wife had taken him into her heart as one of her 
own. The step-relation at Mount Pottinger had nothing 
about it that was not beautiful. No distinctions were 
recognized there. Indeed, Mrs. Pottinger appears to 
have loved none among her own eight children more 
tenderly than the strong, high-spirited, self -forgetful boy 
who, from first to last, was as true a son to her as mother 
ever had. 

Glimpses of those early days, though few and meagre, 
aptly foreshadow the man. Mrs. Pottinger found the 
lovable four-year-old Eldred a source of comfort, never 
to be forgotten, during her husband's long absences in 
his yacht ; an extravagance that, like many others, had 
to be forgone when children multiplied and ill-advised 
speculations failed one after the other, till the impover- 
ished landowner was driven to leave Mount Pottinger 
for a house more in keeping with his straitened means. 
These, by now, consisted mainly of the rentals from a 
certain Kilrnore estate, left to him by his first wife in 
trust for her son ; and, from all accounts, as woefully 
ill-managed as the main of his affairs. 

Family letters and comments leave an impression that 
Eldred Pottinger owed little either to the influence or 
character of a father, as lively and talented as he was 


extravagant and irresponsible ; unless, indeed, on the 
principle that "out of example is wrought not merely 
the impulse to imitate, but often a passionate realization 
of the advantage of another way." Or it may be that 
the spirit of his unknown mother lived again in her son ; 
seeing that his self-denial, tenderness and forbearance 
toward the crowd of small brothers and sisters appears 
to have dated from nursery days. Even then it was 
found that he could keep a secret better than most grown 
people; and if the interests of others were concerned, 
wild horses would not draw it from him. 

Very early, too, it was evident that, with all the boy's 
aptitude for book knowledge, the inmost desire of his 
heart was towards foreign travel and military adventure. 

At Addiscombe the fact that he " took a good place 
in his class " went for little. It was the courage, up- 
rightness and manly bearing of the fourteen-year-old 
cadet that gained the admiration of his fellows. One 
only besetting fault gave him any lasting trouble: a 
temper quick and passionate as that of Nicholson or the 
Lawrences themselves ; and no less sturdily combated, till 
the years brought some measure of control. Family 
tradition has it that while at Addiscombe he invented 
some new form of shell and daringly exploded it, to the 
dismay of the authorities and the peril of those who 
shared the fun. Invention or mere mischief, there was 
good promise in either. But the significance of the in- 
cident lies deeper. Though others were implicated, 
Gentleman-Cadet Pottinger took on himself all responsi- 
bility for the breach of college rules, and tried to bear 
all the punishment. It went near to cost him his com- 
mission, yet nothing would induce him to reveal the names 
of his friends. 

And so on to India as a subaltern of artillery, which 


arm of the service has for a hundred years kept the 
name of Pottinger upon its rolls. Here the challenge of 
the horizon and an eager longing for active employment 
speedily drew him northward, not without good results, 
as has been seen. 

Three brothers and a sister had followed him to India ; 
while he himself his tramp royal achieved looked 
forward keenly to the deliberate homeward voyage, and 
glad reunion with the mother he had parted from as a 
boy of sixteen. But that lay two years ahead, at the 
most hopeful computation. What would those years 
bring forth? 

His own serious nature and much talk with his uncle 
had given him a wider understanding of matters political 
than the soldier of six-and-twenty is apt to possess. He 
knew that Colonel Pottinger least fanciful of men 
anticipated frontier complications at no distant date ; 
that his keen penetration detected the hidden element of 
danger in Lord Auckland's pacific scheme for opening 
the river Indus to British enterprise and encouraging 
our commerce with Afghanistan. It is a truism of 
imperial history that commerce spells politics, and politics 
war, be the olive branch never so assiduously waved : and 
in this case the friendly passages between Viceroy and 
Amir were genuine enough. 

Dost Mahomed Khan, Chief of Kabul and of the strong 
tribe of Barakzai, had greeted the new Governor after 
the fashion of his kind : "The field of my hopes, which 
had before been chilled by the cold blast of wintry times, 
has, by the happy tidings of your lordship's arrival, 
become the envy of the Garden of Paradise. . . . Com- 
municate to me whatever may suggest itself to your 
wisdom for the settlement of the affairs of this country, 
that it may serve as a rule for my guidance. ... I 


hope your lordship will consider me and my country as 
your own." 

Lord Auckland had sent answer, also after his kind, 
assuring the Amir of his wish to see the Afghans " a 
flourishing and united nation." But of personal advice 
no word, beyond the mild protest: "My friend, you are 
aware that it is not the practice of the British Government 
to interfere with the affairs of other independent States." 
Words writ in all good faith, if ever words were. War 
with Afghanistan was the last thing the new Governor 
dreamed of or desired. Timid, cautious and well-mean- 
ing, his five years of office seemed to him a sublime 
opportunity for dispensing justice and happiness to the 
people under his charge. But the curse of the unstable 
was upon him ; and, upon India, a spirit of unrest that 
augured ill for visions of the vine and fig-tree order. The 
whole political atmosphere was a-flutter with portents not 
lightly to be disregarded ; and of these the most disturb- 
ing came from the far north-west eternal storm-quarter 
of India's horizon. Sir John McNeill, British minister 
in Teheran, wrote anxiously of a threatened Russo- 
Persian advance on Herat "the Gate of India." In 
which event, said scaremongers, the city must fall, and 
the whole fertile valley become a base for further advance 
on Afghanistan and India. 

Be this as it might Russian gold and Russian officers 
in Persia's army were facts not to be blinked. But the 
whole affair seemed very misty, very remote. Calcutta 
considered it officially, with a detached interest, un- 
troubled by prevision of tragedy to come : while in Eng- 
land McNeill's rousing pamphlet on Russia's progress in 
the East set a score of pens and tongues running upon 
the subject in all its bearings, possible and impossible. 
The shadow of Napoleon's eagles gave place to the 


shadow of the Bear. The " Russian bogey" was born. 
Then, as now, there were many minds upon the matter ; 
but on two points sceptic and fanatic were in unison : 
the need of knowledge more intimate concerning Central 
Asian geography, and of an Afghan alliance more firmly 
knit. It was in these days that Lord Auckland bethought 
him of that peaceful "commercial mission " to Kabul 
the prologue of a drama that should teach him terrible 
things. It was in these days also the summer of '36 
that Eldred Pottinger's cherished plan had taken definite 
shape. But with the ill-starred Kabul mission he had no 
concern as yet. 

The Governor-General's choice of an agent was a 
natural one enough. Captain Alexander Burnes, Political 
Assistant at Kutch, was already a traveller of note and 
a personal friend of the Amir. A man of brains, 
resource and restless ambition, he was of those in whom 
desire outstrips discretion, and prejudice judgment con- 
ditions fatal to political work of the first order. But the 
mission was commercial in name at least; and Burnes 
was the last authority on trans-Indus countries. He had 
published a book, something of an event in those days. 
He had been flattered by London hostesses, and even 
bidden to Windsor ; heady diet for a young man of vola- 
tile temper, with a fine natural conceit of himself and a 
breezy disregard for ideas other than his own. To 
Colonel Pottinger a political officer of rare skill and 
judgment his brilliant assistant had proved a thorn in 
the flesh. But for the older man's astonishing forbear- 
ance the other's flagrant official liberties might well have 
recoiled upon his own head ; and as it was, the Govern- 
ment orders of November 1836 can hardly have been 
more welcome to Burnes than to his long-suffering chief. 
Before the month was at an end the former had started 


for Kabul via Sindh. And in February '87 Eldred 
Pottinger set out for the same destination via 

At the moment there appeared small kinship between 
the two events ; nor did either expedition seem charged 
with historic significance. Yet that double journey 
northward was as the tuning up of instruments in a 
theatre that had all Afghanistan for stage, and for 
auditorium the major nations of earth. For the two 
men also, in that spring of 1837, the hour of destiny had 
struck, though they " heard not the bell " 


THROUGHOUT the weeks that followed his departure from 
Kuteh ? Eldred Pottiuger experienced to the full the 
delights and drawbacks of pioneer travel dear to the 
heart of five-and-twenty, rich in hazard and adventure 
as it was. Mounted on a camel, and roughly disguised 
as a Brahui from the Belooch border country, he rode 
hopefully forth upon that February morning; his com- 
panions, three non-commissioned native officers, all, like 
himself, on special leave. They travelled lightly, without 
tents, trusting to clear skies or wayside shrines for the 
night's rest. Their road lay across the salt deserts of 
Sindh and the Beloochistan passes; on through Quetta 
to Kandahar and Kabul ; and thence on again, so far as 
might be, into the heart of untravelled Asia. 

At the outset Pottinger's disguise was of the thinnest. 
He had not so much as darkened his skin or dyed his 
beard. But it soon transpired that there was need of 
precaution more stringent ; for a white face was still 
dreaded by the men of Sindh, jealous for their country's 
integrity, and mindful of warnings spoken by a Hindu 
merchant in the days when John Company rose to power 
on the ruins of Mahratta thrones. 

" This tribe," said he, " never begin as friends without 
ending as enemies and seizing the country which they 
entered with the most amicable professions." The 
shrewd one passed away, but men remembered his words ; 
and when Burnes openly explored the Indus in 1830, a 
holy man on the bank flung up his hands in dismay, 

C 2 19 


crying: " Sindh is now gone! The English have seen 
the river, that is the road to its conquest." 

Gone indeed ! Already Sikh and British rulers coveted 
command of that king among rivers ; already the last 
struggle for independence was at hand. For after Burnes 
came Eldred Pottinger, who, at the little frontier town 
of Wanga, narrowly escaped detection and frustration 
of his heart's desire. In spite of precautions the venture- 
some four found themselves challenged for passports 
they had never troubled to procure. Explanations proved 
futile ; their guns were seized, their saddle-bags examined, 
and only by skilful distribution of Pottinger 's tell-tale 
belongings about their own persons did they succeed in 
disarming suspicion and recovering the guns. Better 
still, on the plea of foraging for their camels they won 
leave to sleep without the gates. Here they set up a 
rough encampment, with sacks and camel saddles, under 
the lee of a wall, and slept soundly in defiance of wind 
and rain. 

But early, very early, before the day-star had melted 
in the fire of dawn, Pottinger had arisen and shaken his 
three comrades wide awake. In the chill grey light, 
saddle-bags were packed and camels hurriedly loaded ; 
and by the time the sun looked over the rim of the desert, 
Wanga lay miles behind a blur in the far-off haze that 
merged blue and brown in one. 

By the first big patch of jungle they turned aside 
among the trees to smoke and re-load at leisure. 
Abdullah and Edul Khan dismounted first. The latter 
had caught the nose-rein of Pottinger 's mount and 
adjured the Son of Kings to kneel, when lo ! a snarl, such 
as only a camel could perpetrate, and a yell of anguish 
from Abdullah, whose beast had him by the shoulder 
and was shaking him viciously, as a dog shakes a rat. 


In a flash all was confusion and a great shouting. 
Edul Khan flew to the rescue, brandishing his hookah 
bottom, which he broke over the brute's head. Pot- 
tinger's camel sprang up like a bent twig released, while 
Allah Dad Khan whose beast was on its fore-knees 
rolled bodily off, and, with the end of his matchlock 
barrel, tilted valiantly at the enemy's eye. It was all a 
matter of seconds; breathless, vociferous seconds. 

Pottinger, freed from his cloak, was in the act of 
leaping from the saddle when Abdullah inspired by 
terror turned sharply round and fixed his teeth in the 
flesh of his tormentor's nose. That clinched matters. 
With a sound between a snarl and a groan the enemy 
released his hold, and, thanks to the thickness of cloak 
and posh teen, 1 the Afghan's skin was not broken ; whereat 
he nodded in grave satisfaction. 

44 By Allah's will and the power of mine own jaw," 
said he, " I have left a finer mark on that devil's spawn 
than he hath left on me." 

44 Wah-illah a bold man of his teeth ! " Edul Khan 
applauded, with satiric gusto. " But who payeth for my 
new hookah bottom? " 

He brandished the corpse under the muzzled one's 
contemptuous nose; and the incident ended in a shout 
of laughter, that broke down barriers of colour and creed 
as only laughter can. 

But real friendliness with companions so ignorant, so 
fanatical and ill-tempered was no easy matter for an 
Englishman of good breeding. Their moral obtuseness 
and unclean habits repelled him ; and their incredible 
stupidity put a severe strain upon a temper he had hoped 
to tame by the hard living and lean fare of the jungle. 
Then there were those minor miseries that tyrannize by 
1 Sheep-skin coat. 


sheer recurrence greasy, ill-cooked meals, brick-dust tea 
for stimulant; the hookah in place of pipe and cheroots. 
For Eldred Pottinger was no fancy-dress explorer. He 
had made no provision for the lusts of the flesh. As his 
comrades fared, so he must fare or go without; and 
in the first few weeks he more often went without. Only 
with the hookah he persevered, in the vain hope that 
habit might breed enjoyment. Life without tobacco in 
some form seemed unthinkable ; and he had known many 
an old Company's officer who preferred his hookah to his 
pipe after mess. He made a fair fight for it. But the 
hookah triumphed ; leaving him to endure, as best he 
might, the prospect of days unsolaced and evenings 

In the meantime his fair skin, book learning and 
unobtrusive asceticism conspired to earn him a reputation 
for saintliness; and his companions, keenly alive to the 
value of holiness as a practical asset, congratulated them- 
selves on the peculiarities of the Sahib. He himself 
guessed nothing till the guide engaged to pilot them 
across the trans-Indus country prostrated himself before 
the supposed Syud and saluted his foot, covering Pot- 
tinger with confusion and causing the Afghans to smile 
discreetly in their beards. 

This was on the fourth morning of March; and right 
before them lay the Indus, raging under the lash of a 
gale from the north. Here they found a crowd of fellow- 
wanderers patiently awaiting their chance to cross ; frag- 
ments of earth, no more able to resist the eternal law 
of motion than desert-dust under foot or star-dust in the 
ultimate beyond ; whole families migrating or returning, 
their worldly goods rolled in red cotton quilts or knotted 
in blue bundles quaintly protuberant ; herdsmen shepherd- 
ing distraught cattle ; merchants with their bales ; and in 


the midst of them one lonely, purposeful British officer, 
his will driving him toward one goal, his destiny toward 
another; no uncommon event among the children of men. 

Four barges heaved and fell, straining at their ropes, 
while Pottinger and his comrades manoeuvred and per- 
suaded their rebellious camels on board. The crossing 
that followed was dangerous work and bitter cold in the 
teeth of a gale that soon brought rain. To crown all, 
they grounded two hundred yards from the shore, to 
which they must wade through knee-deep mud and water, 
while darkness rolled up out of the east like a banner 

Wet, cold and hungry as they were, camels must be 
loaded and a night's lodging found. The dusk ahead 
showed no friendly glimmer, and the guide having 
secured two rupees in advance disclaimed all knowledge 
of the road with the engaging modesty of his kind. So 
they went forward at random behind a party who had 
crossed with them, the modest hireling for form's sake 
leading the way. 

Before long all were at a standstill. Women fell to 
whimpering, men to swearing ; and Allah Dad Khan, 
past-master of Asiatic invective, consigned the mis- 
begotten offspring of a pig to Jehannum, where his nose- 
less mother and sisters were, without doubt, causing 
blood feuds among the sons of perdition. The guide, 
sure of his two rupees, retaliated in kind ; and Pottinger 
saw that unless he asserted himself the fluent interchange 
of compliments might go on till dawn. The plight of 
the women and children afflicted his chivalrous soul ; and 
conquering his reluctance to attract attention, he 
silenced the combatants with the scathing comment that 
as none of them seemed able to find a way, he, a 
stranger, would do what he could ; let those follow who 


chose. Quiet words, quietly spoken ; but the note of 
decision had its effect. The wettest and weariest took 
heart of grace, little dreaming that the stranger of the 
deep-toned voice and reputed holiness was but a Feringhi 
subaltern exercising his racial instinct for leadership and 

In due time they reached a canal declared unsafe for 
crossing except by established fords. There were lights 
opposite, and the sound of men's voices ; and with one 
accord they shouted to those favoured ones for help. 
The favoured ones, being dry and warm, cared nothing 
for their plight ; and the guide, for very shame, floundered 
into unknown depths, praying that Allah might direct 
his going in the way. 

But Allah was not so minded ; and at the third step 
forward the man dropped shrieking into a hole. There 
was a general halt and a shout of dismay. Pottinger 
hauled him, dripping and spluttering, to the surface. 

"It is plain thou knowest not the ford," said he. "I 
will find it for myself. Let the rest come on." 

But neither persuasion nor example would induce them 
to stir; and Eldred Pottinger, heartily sick of their 
stupidity, went on alone. Nor did one man among them 
follow, till a shout assured them he had hit on the ford ; 
and five minutes later they were all scrambling pell-mell 
up the farther bank. Here their journey ended in a 
rough open shed, which Pottinger and his friends had 
leave to share with six other men, one woman, three 
children and two bullocks. A log fire dried the clothes 
upon their backs while they ate their fill of coarse bread 
washed down with butter-milk, and, according to young 
Eldred's journal, "finished the evening tolerably well." 

Three days later brought them to the gate of Shikar- 
pore ; and after harassing search they cast anchor in a 


lone hovel, where Pottinger, wrapped in his cloak, burned 
and shivered for near a week, in defiance of quinine. 
Then came respite and prostration, the which he dis- 
regarded, peremptorily demanding colour-juices and 
clothes in which he might venture abroad. They brought 
him a shirt and wide trousers of coarse white cloth, a 
lungi for kummerbund, another for turban, and rough 
laced boots. They brought news also that the Afghan 
merchants had combined to form a fca/iZa, 1 starting in a 
few days ; and the Sahib must see that it would be well 
to travel thus through the wilds of a country where men 
live not by patient tilling of the soil, but by prowess of 
matchlock and sword. Yes, the Sahib saw ; though for 
himself he would sooner have marched unhampered and 
taken his chance. 

Followed a week of complications and delays madden- 
ing to one of British temper ; then, in the cool half-light 
before dawn, they started a motley assortment of mer- 
chants, travellers and a host of poor families, glad to 
return home in stalwart company. 

Pottinger endured the new departure with his wonted 
stoicism. But the delays and deviations of his soldier 
friends were as nothing to the vagaries of this noisy 
Afghan crowd that straggled and loitered through thirty 
miles of unhealthy jungle ; halting on the least provoca- 
tion ; courting, in pure stupidity, the very dangers it 
most desired to avoid. Happily for all, the Belooch 
marauders were engaged elsewhere ; and after two days 
of marching interleaved with three of lounging by the 
way the forty-mile stretch of desert lay before them, 
grey and lifeless as the face of a corpse. No billows 
here, no ripples of wind-blown sand as in Bikaneer and 
Rajputana. But only mile upon mile of pathless waste ; 
1 Caravan. 


level as a lake, bare as the blue above, save for the faint 
line of route marked out by the feet of wayfarers and 
the bones of those whose kismet had been evil. 

Two leisurely night marches, under a moon of unearthly 
brilliance, brought them to the oasis a fort, a couple of 
wells, a clurnp of trees ; and here the prospect of further 
delay brought Pottinger's endurance to an end. 

Boldly uprising in the far north-west, a misty blue 
vision of mountains flung him the old irresistible chal- 
lenge ; and shaking off the lethargy of fever, he persuaded 
a small party of Afghans, impatient as himself, to push 
on that very night towards Bagh, where the plains of 
Upper Sindh merge into the foothills of the Brahooick 

They marched from dusk to dawn, covering thirty-six 
miles, and breakfasting among the awakening fields and 
gardens of Bagh. A brief rest here, imperative as it 
was welcome ; for intermittent fever was sapping Pot- 
tinger's strength. Less welcome by far was the discovery 
that word had gone before him of a Sahib travelling up 
from Sindh to Kandahar. How the news had got 
abroad he could not conceive ; so secret had been his 
preparations, so great his anxiety to avoid any contre- 
temps of the kind. But the thing being done, he decided 
to avoid Kandahar and take the more direct route to 
Kabul across the Toba Pass, still wondering vexedly 
whose indiscretion he had to thank for an annoyance that 
might prove serious at a later stage of his journey. 
Enlightenment came sooner than he looked for. 

Seventeen miles from Bagh they fell in with the en- 
campment of Allah Dad's clan, faring north-west like 
the rest of the world at this season of almond blossom 
and young corn. The whole moving village was compact 
of primitive black blanket tents, still familiar to officers 


on the north-west frontier ; and here the chief made them 
welcome, after his kind, with salutations and embraces, 
and such a royal meal as they had not eaten for days, 
ceremoniously set out upon a couple of coarse towels 
mottled with the stains of years. Thereafter followed 
Tcalvans * for smokers ; drums, music, dancing and an 
undercurrent of talk. 

In the course of this last it transpired that the chief's 
son had visited Kutch in November and there fell in with 
Burnes, who told him that the Duffadar would shortly 
be coming up-country with a Sahib to Kandahar ; to all 
of which Pottinger listened outwardly unconcerned, in- 
wardly fuming. Such flagrant carelessness, in the face 
of his clearly expressed wish that the whole matter should 
be kept secret, puzzled and annoyed beyond measure this 
most inward of Irishmen, noted from boyhood for his 
power to keep a still tongue in his head, above all where 
the interests of others were concerned. What possible 
motive Burnes could have had in multiplying a fellow- 
explorer's difficulties and dangers it was hard to con- 
ceive; jealousy, perhaps, not uncommon between "two 
of a trade " ; or a grudge against the uncle visited on 
the nephew ; or again, most probably, mere constitutional 
leakiness, from which the elder man had already suffered 
much, and was fated to suffer more before the end of the 

Pottinger allowed himself two nights' rest with the 
friendly Sirdar; and at daylight on March the 28th set 
out to cross the passes into the valley of Pishin, his party 
swelled by the chief's son, Juma Khan, and a couple of 
matchlockmen for guides. 

Here, among the stony-hearted Afghan hills, hard- 
ships of a new order awaited him : days of toiling up rocky 
* Hookahs. 


paths, slipping and stumbling among the pebbles and 
boulders of torrent-beds; days of blinding glare, of in- 
cessant feud between sun and wind ; nights when the last 
triumphed so mightily that no fire could live in the open ; 
and that meant going empty to rest such rest as a man 
may hope for wrapped in a poshteen and blanket on a 
wind-whipped hill-top of Afghanistan. And through it 
all Eldred Pottinger must contrive to steer a mildly 
remonstrant camel, whose every leg seemed animated 
with a perverse will of its own ; to make notes and rough 
sketches of the route, and to imbibe as much informa- 
tion as could be gained without asking direct questions 
that would belie his Asiatic dress. 

On the last day of March they fought their way across 
the Pass in the teeth of a hurricane, and at nightfall 
dropped down where they stood, too numbed and footsore 
to bestir themselves, though the reward were fire and 
food. Four days and nights the gale raced and roared, 
buffeting them without mercy ; so that even afoot the 
stoutest went in danger of being blown from the path. 
The fourth night found them on the plain of Mastung, 
in a traveller's hut of the darkest and dirtiest, but at 
least a shelter from the rain that fell in torrents with the 
passing of the gale. 

Day broke blue and clear, and the high-road to Khelat 
promised miles of smooth going for the camel people, 
whose feet had been cruelly cut in crossing the hills. 
Pottinger 's own feet were blistered; but in pity to the 
laden beasts he insisted on walking the greater part of 
each march, and made his men follow suit, to their 
obvious surprise and disgust. Edul Khan whose temper 
had been out of gear for many days sulked openly, and 
treated Pottinger with a covert impertinence hard to be 
endured. For a while prudence curbed the Englishman's 


temper. But seeing that silence seemed rather to breed 
rancour, he spoke in private to the Duffadar and Juma 
Khan. The former shook his head and tugged ruefully 
at his beard. 

"Hazur, it is an ill business. The Captain Sahib 
thought highly of the man; so I feared to speak of his 
evil nature lest it be esteemed backbiting. But his 
Jemadar bade me keep close watch over him lest harm 

Here was an unlooked-for trouble worse than the horse- 
play of the elemenfs ; and Pottinger swore under his 

"In God's name, man, why did you not speak to me? 
1 would never have taken him had I known." 

Allah Dad folded his hands in mute apology. " For 
that very reason, Hazur, the door of my lips was locked. 
Had he ever suspected that through word of mine service 
was lost to him, I might have eaten bread one week two 
weeks no more." 

He stated the fact quite simply. For him it was 
obvious as the course of a dropt stone ; and in spite of 
hot vexation Pottinger smiled. 

" Not a pleasant prospect, Allah Dad ! But the present 
one's damned unpleasant for me. What are the fellow's 
grievances? Dost know? " 

" He was wroth at leaving the Kafila, and also at the 
Sahib's order concerning the camels. He hath sworn to buy 
a tattoo l as Mastung and ride whenever it pleaseth him." 

" Bismillah ! It is time he should know who is master. 
Bring his Khanship to me." 

" Hazur, have a care. He is an ill man to cross." 

" For that cause I have already ignored his ill -humour 
too long. Bring him at once. Hukum frai." 2 
1 Pony. 2 It is an order. 


Magic words that even Edul Khan dared not disregard, 
though undoubtedly he looked " an ill man to cross " as 
he stood before his subaltern scowling at vacancy, sullen 
defiance in every line of him. The snarl with which he 
answered the first plain question as to the cause of his 
behaviour had the effect of flint striking flint ; but weeks 
of hard- won self-control stood Pottinger in good stead. 

" It seems thou art not the strong man Captain Ward 
Sahib took thee for," he said sternly, but without heat. 
" A few marches afoot and thou canst no farther. What 
is this I hear of buying a tattoo at Mastung? " 

" True talk. I choose not to walk because fools regard 
camels' feet before their own. After Mastung I ride." 

"Not with my leave." 

"Then without it! " Edul Khan flashed out fiercely. 
"I am in mine own country." 

" But still in Government service, and under my 

"Nevertheless I choose to ride." 

Defiance smouldered in the man's black eyes, and the 
insolent swagger of his tone goaded Pottinger to fury. 

"Ride to Jehannum and broil there! " he flung out 
fiercely. " I keep not a loocha l and badzat 2 in my 
employ. If you disobey my orders we travel by different 

"Better for both, belike! " sneered the Afghan, his 
hand at his belt. "Since leaving Kutch my stomach 
hath been surfeited with hardships and ill feeding. I 
will endure no more. I said when taking this service 
that my bread was gone." 

He swung round and strode wrathfully out of the hovel 
where they talked. But Pottinger, his flash of anger 
past, called him back. 

1 Loafer. 2 Bad character. 


" It is the devil in thine own heart that hath wrought 
this trouble, Edul Khan," he said quietly. " I take away 
no man's bread. Thou earnest of thine own will, and 
being dissatisfied, art free to return." 

"Return Wahl to the child's play of mock warfare 
and shooting without bloodshed ! Matchlocks be man- 
eaters in mine own land, where be no police-log praise 
be to Allah making outcry over a corpse or two. Nay, 
I go not back." 

But Pottinger, feeling that an open breach were im- 
politic in the circumstances, preserved his more placable 

"If that be so," he answered, "and if thy foolishness 
hath left thee, I am willing that thou should 'st march 
with us to-morrow." 

"Kya!" 1 the man snapped like a vicious dog, and, 
receiving no answer, flung up his head. "'I have been 
told to take mine own road, and by the beard of the 
Prophet I take none other." 

Thereat Juma Khan and the Duffadar fell upon him 
with arguments, persuasion, threats, in fluent colloquial 
Pushtoo. But the outcome was nil. Edul Khan's arro- 
gance and daring increased rather ; so that Pottinger had 
much ado to keep his fists to himself. Once, indeed, 
when the Afghan flung out a contemptuous "Wah! 
That Feringhi fellow is no Lat-sahib that I should eat 
dirt to win his favour," Pottinger 's hand went involun- 
tarily to his belt. But the pistols that should have been 
there were rolled up safely in his bedding, or Edul Khan 
might have proved his own boast that in his country a 
corpse more or less was of no account. The arrested im- 
pulse cooled Pottinger 's hot blood, and calling his cham- 
pions to order, he dismissed the offender without a word. 



Left to themselves, the three took counsel in low tones. 
The Asiatics, in their zeal, had made matters worse than 
ever; and by way of reparation Juma Khan volunteered 
to detain the rebel as long as need be at Mastung. A 
tempting offer, but Eldred Pottinger was not the man to 
shift his own risk onto another pair of shoulders. 

Then the chief's son, secretly relieved, advanced a 
guileless proposition Afghan to the core. It would be 
a simple matter for the Sahib to feign forgiveness, and 
pacify the son of Satan by asking it in return ; then, 
when all was safely over, to punish him as he deserved. 
But the Sahib, being troubled with a familiar spirit 
unknown to his comrades, found the proposal less simple 
than it seemed. 

"It is not the dastur of my country," said he, "to 
promise one thing and perform another. The word of 
an Englishman is sacred as the name of God ; and I could 
not break mine even to save my life. I see but one way 
out of the dilemma. We must hire some reliable men 
who will escort him to Bhooj, where they will receive 
payment from Captain Ward Sahib. If he refuse to go 
he is a deserter, and I shoot him on the spot. This thou 
canst tell him from me, Allah Dad ; and let him decide 
one way or the other." 

"It is manfully spoken, Sahib," they applauded; and 
left him alone with his thoughts. 

That night, before sleeping, he recorded the incident 
in his journal, adding, by way of comment : " I do not 
ever remember to have had to swallow so bitter a pill as 
this was to-night. I fully perceive if I choose to beg 
the scoundrel to accompany us that he would do so. But 
it would only open the door to constant repetitions of 
such conduct; and as I am, thank God, not totally 
friendless even here, I shall not show such disrespect to 


myself. Juma Khan has offered to detain him here ; but 
this is entailing too much upon him and his tribe, and 
may get them into trouble. Besides, I have told Edul 
Khan too much of my plans to let him go loose as an 
enemy. So I see no resource, if he still continues 
obstinate, but the pistol." 


HAPPILY for Eldred Pottinger he was spared the hate- 
ful necessity of shooting a fellow man at sight. In the 
morning Allah Dad brought word that the devil had gone 
out of Edul Khan ; but to start that day would be impos- 
sible, since the Sahib's black camel had gone dead lame. 

The calamity proved a happy one. Pottinger was not 
sorry for a chance to rest and improve his Pushtu ; and 
it occurred to him that a passing penitence might serve 
as pretext to rid himself of Edul Khan without risk or 
friction. Since marching disagreed with him he should 
have leave to spend a month among his own people, with 
strict injunctions to rejoin their party at Kandahar, 
where Pottinger intended that he should find instead no 
party, but an order for his return to Bhuj ! A mild 
deception not to be cavilled at, in the circumstances ; since 
a fresh outbreak at a more critical juncture might wreck 
his plans for good. The proposal was broached ; and it 
transpired that Edul Khan himself had been about to 
suggest some such compromise. So much the better for 
Pottinger, whose motive would not be suspected until he 
was well out of harm's way. 

And so an end of Edul Khan. 

The middle of April found them in the valley of Pishin, 
where spring already sat enthroned and garlanded : with 
white and pink fruit blossoms for coronal, the shimmer- 
ing poplar for sceptre, and for footstool, young corn- 
lands embroidered with the wild iris and tulip of the 
hills. A breath from the faint snow-line tempered the 



sun's ardour at noon ; but at dusk men sat round log 
fires, stirring the ashes with cold bare toes. It was 
round just such a fire, in the travellers' room of an 
underground mosque, that Eldred Pottinger fell in with 
his friend Mohun Shah. The Syud, in spite of denial, 
had known him for an Englishman, and thereupon rained 
protestations of devotion to himself and all of his race. 
A tent and ponies were placed at Pottinger 's disposal, 
and, by way of credential, a Government letter, acknow- 
ledging services rendered to Arthur Conolly, was proudly 

"Your honour is one of the same jat, that is easily 
seen," the good man concluded, crowning his new-found 
Sahib with the highest eulogium in his vocabulary. " Pity 
that all the English in Hind are not of such noble 
countenance, treating with respect men of other creeds 
and other complexions. For harm is wrought often to 
English prestige among the followers of God and his 
Prophet through certain Sahibs, young and foolish, pos- 
sibly of low caste, who think to show themselves Bahadur 
by insulting and scornful speech to men of dark skin. 
There was one such in Bengal, at whose hands I suffered 
much. Your honour may have heard? " 

Yes, Pottinger had heard, and had not greatly heeded, 
though he had seen the young official's conduct severely 
censured in the papers. Considering the matter now, 
with enlightened mind, he pressed Mohun Shah to speak 
of it from the Asiatic point of view, and the talk that 
followed set him thinking to some purpose. 

"I am ashamed," he wrote in his journal with the 
frank simplicity that was his, " when I remember how 
often I have been actor or partner in such scenes of 
insolence. I begin to see that our customs regarding the 
natives are very erroneous, and the sooner they are altered 
D 2 


the better. I also see that they notice our conduct in this 

This, from a subaltern in '37 and even to-day there 
be men in India who have not yet grasped the fact that 
there individual character and conduct count for more, 
perhaps, than anywhere else on earth. Not in regard to 
themselves alone; but in regard to the nation they are 
privileged to represent. That Eldred Pottinger recog- 
nized this early, and acted on the recognition, is a dis- 
tinction he shares with some of the greatest names in our 
Anglo-Indian story. 

For a week he lingered in the sun-filled valley of Pi shin, 
sketching maps and wrestling with Pushtu, in defiance of 
the fever-fiend that clave to him, with the tenacity of the 
undesired, through all his Afghan service. Then the zeal 
of the Syud culminated in a determination to escort his 
friend in person through the dangerous hill country of 
the Kakur and Ghilzai tribes; and on April 22 the 
Bukhtiari merchant, who had entered the valley hungry 
and footsore, rode forth in state his safe conduct to 
Kabul practically assured. 

And now an honoured guest of the Nawab Jubbur 
Khan the young explorer, embryo no longer, awaited 
the acceptable moment to be gone ; while May slipped 
past with its ecstasy of colour ; its Friday pleasurings ; its 
evenings of alluring idleness in gardens choral with love- 
songs of nightingale and thrush. For Friday is the 
Mahomedan Sunday, and upon that day the royal apple 
orchard was transformed into a fair. Thither from 
palace and city alike followers of the Prophet flocked out, 
in hundreds, to take their fill of things more excellent 
than cheating and throat-cutting, lust and intrigue. 
Women were there also, seeing, unseen; strolling and 


gossiping with their men folk ; looking for all the world 
like corpses set up on end, in their latticed boorkhas and 
loose leggings, brilliantly gartered at the knee. At such 
gatherings the men of Afghanistan are seen to good 
advantage; and Pottinger, like all Englishmen, was 
strongly attracted at the outset by their courage, vigour 
and independence, a certain virility of fibre common to 
mountain-bred folk. It needed closer intimacy to reveal 
the devils within ; and such intimacy was vouchsafed to 
Pottinger during the next few years. Well for his 
judgment of the race that he should have known at the 
outset two such notable chiefs as his host and the 
Barakzai Amir first of his clan to bear the title and 
ascend the throne of Afghanistan. 

For they were not of the blood royal, these Barakzai 
Sirdars ; though, as king-makers and upholders of kings, 
Dost Mahomed's father and eldest brother had wielded 
supreme power over the conflict-ridden kingdom of 
Afghanistan, at that time barely a hundred years old. 

Founded by Ahmed Shah, upon treasure stolen from 
the murdered Nadir Shah, the curse of violence and 
treachery had shadowed the empire from the hour of its 
birth. For empire it had become by the time Ahmed 
Shah died ; and, dying, bequeathed to his heir a kingdom 
stretching from the mountains of Tibet to the Sutlej and 
the Indus ; for which legacy that heir did little, beyond 
enriching it with six-and-thirty children, twenty-three of 
whom were sons. 

Needless to follow in detail the murderous Afghan 
programme of rivalry, treachery and intrigue that rent 
the kingdom and speedily reduced the empire to a name. 
Suffice it that three of the royal brothers, in turn, were 
supported on the throne by Futteh Khan, the Barakzai 
Wazir ; and, of these, the last was Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk 


the man doomed, by a strange mingling of fate and 
folly, to be instrumental in one of the blackest chapters 
of Anglo-Indian history. His deposed elder brother 
retired, with a son, to Herat. Thither, before long, 
came Futteh Khan, alienated by Shah Shujah's ingrati- 
tude, and eager to assist in tilting him from the throne. 

Thus it came about that, in 1816, Shah Shujah fled to 
British India, where he settled down intermittently as a 
royal pensioner ; and those early years of his banishment 
saw the rise of Dost Mahomed Khan, a ruler of rare 
talent and power; though compelled, by ill-fortune and 
the Calcutta Government, to be in turn "the rejected 
friend, the enforced enemy, the honourable prisoner, 
vindictive assailant and faithful ally of the British in 
India." The brutal murder of his brother, in revenge 
for his own daring seizure of Herat, gave him his chance, 
and he took it as he took all that came his way with 
the high-handed violence of his race. But the Barakzai 
did not profess to conquer for themselves. Futtdi Khan 
had fought for the hands of princes, and Dost Mahomed, 
true to the spirit of legitimacy, followed suit, for a time. 
Then he gave it up in disgust ; fought openly for his own 
hand, and carried all before him. 

But not until the death of an elder brother in 1826 did 
he set himself upon the thorny seat of power; and on 
that day, like an Eastern Harry V, he abjured for good 
the notorious excesses of his youth. From a daring, 
dissolute soldier, ignorant of all save horsemanship and 
war, he was transformed into a ruler, the strongest and 
ablest Central Asia had seen since Nadir Shah. In 1837 
he was at the height of his power, and had already 
proven himself a hero of true Afghan stamp and 
character. Ambitious, grasping, and not over-scrupu- 
lous, he was yet as men of his race go neither wantonly 


treacherous nor cruel. But in the unholy strife of 
Afghan politics a man must either fight ruthlessly for 
his own hand or die, and Dost Mahomed did not intend 
to die yet awhile. 

For eleven years he had gone from strength to strength, 
ruling his refractory tribes with rough justice and a rod 
of steel. Shah Shujah's two attempts to unseat him had 
failed signally. The man lacked sinews, figurative and 
financial. The Sikhs gave far more trouble. Like rest- 
less waves they beat upon the Amir's rocky coastline, 
steadily undermining the empire of Ahmed Shah. 
Peshawur was gone from him ; Persia threatened to 
enforce her ancient claim on Herat; and even now an 
army under his favourite son, Mahomed Akbar Khan, 
was stemming the tide of invasion among the defiles of 
the Khyber Pass. From all sides came thunder rolls, 
presaging storm ; only to India and the British Govern- 
ment Dost Mahomed looked hopefully for the sealing of 
a friendship that would establish and strengthen him 
upon the throne that was his by right of prowess and 
his people's good- will. Eagerly he awaited the coming 
of Burnes, whom in '34 he had treated as a personal 
friend, and who would assuredly befriend him in turn. 

But May slid smilingly into June. The orchards rained 
summer snowflakes that lay in shrivelling heaps upon the 
ground. And still the only news from India was of a 
doubtful victory near Jamrud : no word of " Sekundur " 
Burnes, who was lingering in the Punjab at the court of 
Ranjit Singh. And still Eldred Pottinger waited 
patiently impatient till the Kamran scare had subsided 
and Persia seemed to have changed her mind about Herat. 

Then, as July drew to an end and the country round 
1 Alexander. 


waxed comparatively quiet, he made secret preparation 
for his venture across the high, rugged valleys of Central 
Afghanistan, whose chiefs had an ill name for hospitality 
to strangers. Young and eager as he was, the chance 
of being first in the field outweighed all accounts of the 
manifold risks involved. The Syuds, who had agreed to 
join him, and the few friends who had his confidence, 
besought him to change his route in vain. Chary 
always about discussing his own affairs, he was now more 
reticent than usual, it having come to his ears that the 
Amir might object to his plan of visiting Herat. Not a 
soul, save those concerned, knew the day and hour of his 
out-setting. To Allah Dad Khan and Abdulla he con- 
fided his instruments and most of his books, bidding them 
take the longer, safer Kandahar route and join him at 
Herat, where he would await their coming. It distressed 
him that he must leave his friend, the good NawaV^witfy 
no word of thanks or farewell ; but he intended to write 
a full explanation of his seeming discourtesy so soon as 
a hundred miles lay between him and the capital. 

Horses and baggage were forwarded one evening to a 
caravanserai some miles on. Then, upon another evening, 
he spoke openly of going with Syud Ahmed to visit a 
defile of the Loghur river near Kabul, and after dark, 
unsuspected by any of the Nawab's household, they left 
the city with its noise of men, its intricate tangle of 
hatred and good-fellowship, and set their faces toward 
the eternally irresistible unknown. 

IT was late afternoon. From above the rugged moun- 
tain mass that gleamed blue-white against a bluer heaven, 
the sun drove great spokes of light into the valley, while 
out of the deeper gullies and ravines broader spokes of 
shadow stole up to meet them. The soundless battle 
between dark and light, that reddens the skies as rivers 
are reddened by the battles of men. 

The sun smote strongly on Eldred Pottinger 's face as 
he drew rein on one of the lesser spurs, to scour the 
savage features of hill and valley with expectant eyes. 
At last, where all seemed emptiness, he found that w r hich 
he sought. A patch of dun-coloured excrescences clung, 
limpet-wise, to a mass of rock already half submerged by 
the conquering shadows. Pottinger knew these for the 
fort and village of Yakoob Beg, most inhospitable of 
Hazara chiefs. Tales of his tyrannies had enlivened 
them by the way. It was said that his pouches bulged 
with the blackmail he levied on strangers, and the prices 
of those more luckless ones whom it suited him to sell as 
slaves. The Feringhi never having seen he hated only 
a few degrees worse than the Sunnis of his own faith ; for 
among Moslems sect antagonism is hardly less bitter than 
antagonism of creed. 

Not a cheering prospect for Eldred Pottinger : infidel 
by birth, and, for the moment, Sunni by profession. 
But his hope was to slip past the village undetected just 
before dark. Report had located it beyond this par- 
ticular spur ; and Pottinger, more eager than his Jcismet- 



drugged comrades, had ridden on ahead to reconnoitre 
and consider their safest plan of advance. 

A glance at the fort, and another at the thread of 
track, that curled down and up again over the next 
shoulder of the hill, convinced him that passing un- 
detected with a string of laden beasts would be no easy 
achievement. Still the attempt must be made; and 
beneath his anxiety Pottinger was aware of that nameless 
stirring of the blood common to all risk-loving men in 
the hour of danger. 

"See, Ahmed," said he, as the Syuds joined him, 
"the track passeth close under the village walls; and 
to forsake it were madness. An hour's rest here to let 
the dusk gather. Then we must take the risk, and trust 
in God." 

So they rested for an hour till the shadows prevailed 
in the valley ; though the sun was not yet gone. Then 
they took the risk and trusted in God. 

If the watchers were feasting or drowsy all might go 
well. But Yakoob Beg was not the man to let prey so 
profitable slip through his fingers. The little cavalcade 
had been sighted afar off : and even as they thought to 
pass safely, a door in the wall opened, and they were 
bidden to enter in the chief's name. 

Resistance being futile, they complied ; and entering, 
found their host, with a score of companions, smoking 
and lolling in a stuffy twilight reeking of hookahs and 
humanity, and starred with cotton wicks aflare in saucers 
of oil. 

"Remember, Sahib, we be Shiahs," Hussain contrived 
to whisper in Pottinger's ear ; and the Sahib remembered, 
while devoutly wishing himself a clearer knowledge of all 
that his apostasy might imply. 

Their sonorous greeting, "Salaam Aleikum," came 


back to them in a broken echo ; and the presents etiquette 
demanded were accepted with affable condescension. 
Followed a searching catechism from the chief, wherein 
Syud Hussain was spokesman for his friends. The fairy 
tale, transforming them into Shiah holy-men, from the 
hill country beyond Kabul, fell from his lips as naturally 
as a stream from its source ; while Pottinger, in the hope 
of avoiding attention, took to his beads. But the eye 
of the " black-hearted cousin " was upon him, and the 
brain behind it was devising snares. 

Of a sudden he nudged the chief. "Professions are 
easy as throat-cutting," said he. "If these be true 
Shiahs, let them be put to the proof. He of the fair 
skin and devout bearing hath doubtless all rules and 
doctrines at his finger-tips. Ask him." 

"Yes, yes; ask him! " chorused the rest. "It will 
soon be seen." 

It was an awkward moment for Pottinger ; a crisis 
demanding cooler courage than that of the mere fighter. 
Some slight knowledge he had of Shiah doctrine. For 
the rest, his safety, and that of his comrades, hung upon 
his own mother wit and the probable ignorance of his 
hosts. But if the chief were ignorant his cousin was 
not, as his questions proved. Mercifully, doctrine came 
first ; and Pottinger 's strange profession of faith pro- 
gressed smoothly for a space. 

Yes ; he was a devout follower of Ali, cousin and son- 
in-law of the Prophet ; he failed not in religiously keep- 
ing the great feast of the Mohurrum, and he stumbled 
more or less accurately through the names of twelve 
rightful Khalifahs since Mahomed, even to Imam-al- 
Mahdi, in whose withdrawal and second advent all true 
Shiahs believe. But there were pauses and hesitations 
that did not pass unobserved ; and the eye of Alum Beg 


had an evil twinkle as he suavely begged the holy one to 
name the five correct books of Shiah tradition. 

Pottinger moistened his lips, and was acutely aware 
of Hussain's clumsy efforts to save him from collapse. 
But he dared not risk any commerce of the eyes. 

"Al Kafi Jahzih " he began, with a deliberate 

drawl; then dead silence. The name of the third in 
order was gone from him : clean gone, after the tricksy 
manner of names. Beyond its inhuman length and one 
capital letter, no trace of it remained : and while he 
racked his memory, under cover of an abstracted frown, 
the quickened breathing of his companions seemed to 
fill all space. 

Again that evil twinkle in Alum Beg's eye as he asked 
leave to disturb the holy one's reflections. 

" Alas, frail as a bubble in water is the memory of 
man," sneered he, "even upon matters of so great 
moment. Mayhap thou hast forgot also ? " 

But Pottinger had sighted a way of escape, and prayed 
God it might serve. 

44 Sir," he interposed, with a fine mingling of dignity 
and impatience, " I have given answer so far to the best 
of my power. But, having spent many years as a soldier 
in Hindustan, little leisure hath been mine for the study 
of serious things. Now I am become a free man it shall 
be otherwise : though time must be allowed before my 
knowledge can equal that of Alum Beg Bahadur." 

The manly words, manfully spoken, sent a murmur of 
approval round the room; and at mention of India 
the chief scrutinized afresh this unusual stranger, who 
had so little of the Afghan about him save dress and 

" Thou hast been in Hind ? " he queried, to Pottinger's 
intense relief. " A country of many wonders, if travellers 


speak truth which is as though one said : 'If water 
runneth up hill.' ' 

"Not in all cases," Pottinger objected quietly. 
"Hindostan is greater than the power of man's tongue 
to enlarge it. A land of mountain and desert, of cities 
and temples beyond compare, of many creeds and many 
peoples " 

44 Yet not strong enough, by report, to withstand the 
Feringhis ; rapacious sons of Shaitan, who would seize 
all, from the hills to the sea, though their own miserable 
island is, to Hind, as a crumb to a cake of bread." 

" Size and strength are not always children of one 
cradle," Pottinger answered, with a touch of warmth that 
caught the attention of one standing near him ; a traveller 
of note, who had seen Kabul, ay, and even Herat ! 

"Belike thou favourest the Feringhi dogs?" he de- 
manded pugnaciously ; then, eagerly, to the chief : 
4 ' Mayhap he is one of them himself ! The people of 
Hind are reported black ; and this Syud of little know- 
ledge is fairer than we." 

Once more the eyes of all were turned on Pottinger. 
The blood pricked and tingled under his colour juices. 
Hussain, distracted by the startling turn of events, 
opened a cross-fire of vigorous denial. A volley in sup- 
port from Ahmed encouraged him to persevere. But 
the accuser, seeing that his remark had made some 
impression on the chief, held his own, whereat the whole 
assembly fell a-wrangling crescendo, fortissimo, stretto 
as only Eastern and Southern races can, till Pottinger, 
boldly confronting his host, begged leave to answer for 

A shout and a gesture stilled the uproar. Then the 
Feringhi stepped forward, squared his shoulders, and spoke. 

"Never before, O Yakoob Beg, in this land of open 


doors, hath such treatment of travellers been known. 
Hither are we come, pilgrims, trusting to thy aid ; 
having chosen this difficult and barren route because the 
Hazaras being Mussulmans, even as we are, we looked 
for good treatment at their hands. True talk that men 
from the plains of Hindustan are dark-skinned. But I 
have said it is a land of many mountains, wherein are 
folk fair as Afghans." 

The chief's nod signified conviction. 

"Thou hast well spoken," said he, "and none shall 
molest thee or thy friends. But the hour of prayer is 
past ; and we would not hinder any man from rendering 
thanks and praise to Allah. We go to make our own 
devotions, and thereafter will return." 

A few went forth of the room with him. The bulk 
remained : and it was soon clear that the newcomers had 
but exchanged one dilemma for another. Here, under a 
score of suspicious eyes, and in strict accord with Shiah 
rules, they must achieve the elaborate evening's pro- 
gramme of prayers and devout washings ; the posturings, 
down-sittings and uprisings, without which no true 
believer dare approach his God. 

So distasteful to Pottinger was this form of mockery 
that hitherto he had managed to evade it, and was now 
the more at a loss. Of the three, Hussain alone had 
knowledge of those minute differences in pose and phrase, 
which, if wrongly rendered, might prove their undoing. 
With a glance he bade his comrades watch, surrepti- 
tiously, and follow his lead ; the which they did, their 
distraught wits sharpened by the knowledge that failure 
might mean death or worse. Even while reciting the 
stately opening verses of the Khoran "Praise be to 
God, Lord of all the Worlds ! The compassionate, the 
merciful! " eye and ear must be kept unceasingly at 


strain. Thus and thus must the hands be set upon the 
thighs ; thus the nose and forehead approach the ground ; 
thus, with mutterings of appropriate texts, the washen 
fingers pass through the beard. Ridiculous and vex- 
atious, it seemed to Pottinger, that a man's safety should 
hinge on trivialities so puerile. But such is the way of 
life ; and his very annoyance so stimulated his senses that 
he came squarely through the ordeal a Shiah proven, 
in word and deed. 

That night he slept in Castle Dangerous, soundly as 
a dead man, heartened by the success that waits on 
daring, and hopeful of finding himself a free man on the 
morrow, with the road he loved underfoot, and the brown 
thread of it climbing on before him over the shoulder 
of the hill. 

But the morrow waxed and waned, and the next day 
and the next, and still no hint of permission to depart, 
nor any possibility of pressing the matter without risk 
of arousing hostility. To leave without formal permis- 
sion were a breach of etiquette the more unadvisable 
because the ice was thin underfoot. Though Yakoob 
Beg's suspicions had been lulled, it was plain that his 
cousin's had not. Guests by name, they were prisoners 
in fact ; and on the third day, under cover of curiosity, 
Yakoob Beg expressed a wish to examine their baggage. 
The wish was a command ; and throughout this fresh 
ordeal Eldred Pottinger had need of all his coolness and 
self-control. Though his most compromising belongings 
had gone via Kandahar, there remained items which, 
if rightly understood, would brand him an impostor and 
an infidel to boot. Yet must he sit quietly by, while 
half-a-dozen barbarians rummaged among his saddle-bags, 
like children over a bran tub. 


One flourished his little tin can of medicines, suggest- 
ing black magic; and amid a chorus of " Yujubs " and 
" Wah-illahs " Pottinger explained that these were being 
carried to a merchant friend near Herat. Another 
snatched up his copy of Elphinstone's "Kabul," and 
lighting upon strange pictures, brandished one for 

Instantly the rest closed round him, and the clamour 
broke out afresh. "Idols! Bismillah! The work of 
infidels. These be no Shiahs who carry such wares." 

Pottinger, tingling from head to foot, dared not risk 
an attempt at explanation that might only blacken their 
case. In despair he glanced at Hussain, who flung him- 
self into the breach, with a shout of derisive laughter. 

" Infidels, forsooth ! By the Prophet's beard it* is ye 
that be fools and ignorant, having seen no cities greater 
than your own mud-builded ant-heap ! The Kuzzilbash l 
houses in Kabul are filled with such things. These be 
no idols, but hand-wrought visions of men and places 
other than we know." 

The chief, listening intently, glanced for confirmation 
at Pottinger, whose impassive face belied the immensity 
of his relief. The rest, too impatient to heed, were 
already wondering themselves crazy over a parcel of reeds, 
wherein Pottinger had embedded his pencils and com- 
passes to preserve their points. 

At length, tired of futile guessings and of Hussain *s 
cunningly complicated answers, they took their lepve; 
and Pottinger, seeing that matters had not gone ill, 
ventured a hint about the need for marching on toward 

Yakoob Beg waved a conciliatory hand. " Be not 
over hasty, my friend. It is written, who travels slowest 
arriveth soonest; since he stumbleth not by the way." 
1 Persian quarter, 


That night, before sleeping, they discussed the possi- 
bility of flight. A new and sinister fear had been added 
to the mere vexation of delay. What if Yakoob Beg 
were detaining them in the hope that a passing slave- 
trader might repay him fivefold the cost of a week's 
hospitality ? What if he already had news of one ? It 
was a fear to make the blood of the stoutest run cold. 
But an hour's talk, over and around the absorbing 
subject, revealed only a blank wall : and they fell asleep 
resolved to leave the outcome in higher Hands than their 

Next day Syud Ahmed went down with fever ; and the 
day after Hussain followed suit. So loneliness was 
added to all other miseries of Pottinger's plight ; not 
least being the revolt of his native honesty against the 
call for incessant imposture and deceit. 

It was now the 6th of August, a week since they had 
entered the fatal valley. Pottinger sat in his own corner 
of the windowless, mud-walled room shared by all three, 
for all purposes, day and night writing up his journal, 
and marshalling, for the hundredth time, the pros and 
cons of his bold schemes for flight. All his young alert- 
ness of brain and body fretted against the unseen chains 
that held him ; and the day's events had reawakened his 
fears of detection. It was plain that the snake of suspi- 
cion had been scotched, not killed ; that, so far, only 
good fortune and the interest of new arrivals had saved 
them from disaster. These last were leaving on the 
morrow, and Pottinger too sanguine and high-hearted 
to despond for long resolved once again to put forth 
all his powers of diplomacy and persuasion, to soften the 
heart of Pharaoh and win leave to go. In that case 
fever or no the other two must take up their beds and 
walk. Former failures gave him small hope of success. 


But his resolve held good ; and the event justified him, 
as it is apt to justify those who hope on in the teeth of 

The morrow found Yakoob Beg unaccountably weary 
of the strangers within his gates ; unaccountably ready 
to exchange them for parting gifts something beyond 
their means. By noon they were under way, scaling the 
rocky glen with songs of thanksgiving in their hearts and 
words of cheer upon their lips: fever itself cured, for 
the nonce, by the stimulant of freedom and clean draughts 
of mountain air. 

Pottinger, always in the van, had a moment's breath- 
ing-space on the ridge of the spur; a moment to look 
back, with a glow of satisfaction, at the too-hospitable 
Hazara fort below. 

Then, of a sudden, his heart stood still. It was as if 
an icy hand had touched him. For along the path they 
had trodden came three scurrying figures, who waked the 
echoes with shouts that plainly signified : " Halt and 
return." The climbers, hearing also, looked back ; and 
there fell upon all the blank silence of dismay. A few 
counselled flight. But Pottinger bade his party await 
the result ; and the rest followed suit. 

As it turned out, they were not needed. The Syuds 
only were to return ; the fair one in particular having 
been specified by Yakoob Beg. This gave things a 
blacker aspect. Pottinger, convinced that he would be 
detained, was too disgusted for speech, and, with such 
coolness as they could assume, he and Hussain retraced 
their steps. For the moment hope was dead in them. 
There seemed, on the face of it, no valid reason for their 
recall, save the hardening of Pharaoh's heart ; and their 
own within them grew heavy as stones as they neared 
the esplanade that fronted the chief's castle. 

Here was a great crowd of men in evident excitement ; 


and from their midst came a single shot, followed by 
prolonged cheers. What this might signify Pottinger 
knew not ; but the mere sound of cheering had a magical 
effect upon his spirits. 

Pressing boldly forward into the open space about 
the chief, he greeted him with" the formal "Salaam 
Aleikum"; whereto Pharaoh made answer cheerfully: 
" Aha, Syud-jee, thou art too late. I have no longer 
any need of thee. I did but call thee back to make 
this gun go off; and lo, it hath gone off of itself." 

" I turned to be off too ! " wrote Pottinger in his 
journal, " wishing him most devoutly a passage to Tar- 
tarus. But Hussain, having been too seriously frightened 
to let him off so quietly, burst out into an eloquent 
oration that perfectly delighted me and astonished the 

So much so that Yakoob Beg listened spellbound, while 
the " worm that turned " denounced them root and 
branch. "May the devil fly away with you and your 
gun!" thundered he in conclusion. "Perchance your 
Mightinesses imagine that we holy men will return 
even from Herat at your bidding every time it misseth 
fire? Wah-illah I These lords of an ant-heap deem 
themselves kings of all the earth ! " 

Then, fearful of having overshot the mark, he turned 
about hastily, and strode forth of the assembly in the 
wake of his friend : nor, until they came safely to the 
stranger's hut outside the walls, did they sit them down 
upon the rocks to vent relief and vexation in hearty 
laughter at their own expense. 

Then once again they clambered up the glen, with 
words of cheer on their lips and thanksgiving in their 

E 2 


IT was toward the close of an unclouded day in mid- 
August that Eldred Pottinger first looked upon Herat, 
with the purely observant eye of a traveller and a mind 
un visited by prophetic foreshadowing of things to be. 
For him, the city was merely an interesting feature of 
the road that lured him on, eternally on till dwindling 
leave of absence should compel return. 

Ten days of marching down from the desolate Hazara 
tableland and through the steep straight-cut bed of the 
Hari-rud had brought them out at last into a land of 
promise and of peace the astonishingly fertile valley of 
Herat. Fallen long since from its ancient empiry as the 
core of Central Asian traffic and trade, the city, by virtue 
of its strategic position, has always been recognized as 
one of the main gateways into India ; and as such Eldred 
Pottinger regarded it with an added thrill of interest, 
while he and his companions rode leisurely nearer to the 
irregular bastioned mass set high on its stupendous 
rampart of sun-baked earth. 

Out of the stark desolation of the mountains they had 
come forth into an oasis close-packed with villages and 
forts, cornfields and orchards, such as they had not seen 
since leaving Kabul near a month ago. But by now the 
high tide of exuberant life had turned. Tulip, poppy, 
thistle and the sweet low-growing wild rose had been 
scorched into mummied ghosts of themselves, hiding 
within their shrivelled hearts the promise of resurrection. 
Corn and grain-fields, long since reaped and garnered, 



showed like monster chessboards cut into squares by irri- 
gation channels empty as themselves ; and the double line 
of poplars bordering the river fluttered here a yellow leaf, 
there a brown. Only the vineyards and orchards still 
flaunted their riches. Gold of apricots, melons, peaches 
and the shadowed purple of grapes cheered the travellers 
with promise of the one unfailing refreshment Afghan- 
istan has to offer. And still, afar off, the inexorable 
mountains hemmed them in, harsh, rocky peaks of the 
Koh-i-Sufaid on one hand, and on the other the sweep- 
ing slopes of the Paropamisus range, beyond which lies 
the home of all the wind-devils of the world. 

But as their advance brought Herat more clearly into 
view, Eldred Pottinger's thoughts became entirely 
focussed upon the many-towered, white-walled town, with 
its high main citadel upon the north side, and beyond it, 
uprising in boldly majestic outline, the dome and minarets 
of the great Masulla mosque the glory of Herat. He 
knew just enough of the rival influences at w r ork in the 
Persian capital to feel certain that the rumours of 
invasion which had detained him at Kabul were not 
unfounded, merely premature ; that Mahomed Shah, of 
Persia, would never rest content till he had broken down 
the independent petty monarchy of Herat. Raids across 
the Persian frontier and the selling of Shiahs into slavery 
seemed, to a man in need of pretexts, provocation enough ; 
a conviction fostered by the Russian Minister, for his 
own ends. But Pottinger, perceiving no link between his 
own destiny and the vagaries of Mahomed Shah, casually 
dismissed the matter from his mind. For himself, he 
hoped to be well on the road to Merv before any such 
contingency should arise. 

And now, while day burnt itself out behind the hills, 
they came to the western gate, set in a mile-long expanse 


of wall, curtained and loop-holed between the towers; 
and, passing through, found themselves in a typical mud- 
built city of Afghanistan : a rabbit-warren of windowless 
houses, looking upon inner courts for light and air ; the 
streets mere gutters, unpaved, undrained, abounding in 
refuse-heaps from the blind houses, that would seem 
to lack nostrils as well as eyes. Yet can each Afghan 
city boast its own distinctive feature ; and that of 
Herat is the main bazaar, or Char-Soo, literally Four 
Streets. These cleave the city from north to south, from 
east to west; their terminals four iron-clamped gates; 
their focal point a domed market-place, where Khurd and 
Tartar, Afghan and Belooch, Mogul and Hindu jostle, 
shout and cheat one another in more or less friendly 
unison. At the time of Pottinger's entrance into Herat 
the Char-Soo was partially covered in by domed arches 
built without keystones and already falling to pieces. 
The holes thus made admitted shafts of evening light 
that splashed and barred vivid silken hangings, carved 
woodwork and vessels of brass; pyramids of ripe fruit, 
grain and spices ; bales of Persian embroideries and every 
form of native craftwork that Central Asia can boast. 

But in August 1837 the bazaars of Herat contrasted 
dismally with the Charchutta of Kabul, which at this 
sociable hour of evening would be all astir with noisy, 
leisurely, good-humoured traffic. Here men went 
hurriedly about their business as if in fear of their lives ; 
women and children were scarcely to be seen, and the 
few who ventured out went even more fearfully than the 
men. All, it seemed, were in mortal haste to re-enter 
their dark, evil-smelling houses, where some small measure 
of safety was theirs. 

Through the midst of these hapless ones the three 
passed on, with their modest retinue, till they came to 


the central market-place ; and on yet again, after needful 
purchases, to one of the large serais that cluster about 
the Kandahar Gate. Before they reached their destina- 
tion shop-fronts were vanishing behind shutters, clamped 
to with iron bars ; and the few belated purchasers scurried 
into the blind by-streets like marmots into their burrows. 
Plainly, though night had not yet fallen, the day's busi- 
ness was at an end. Puzzled and not a little dismayed by 
the ominous aspect of things, the men from Kabul halted 
by the booth of one who clamped his shutters with 
trembling hands. 

Hussain, as usual, spoke for his comrades. " So early to 
rest brings small profit, brother," said he. " Is it custom 
here? Or is it for some reason? " 

"Reason enough, friend. And as for profit! Good 
fortune here if a man have not his goods snatched from 
him without a cowrie's worth of payment." Glancing 
sharply over his shoulder the Herati laid a finger on his 
lips. " In this city the very stones have ears, ay, and 
tongues also. Surely ye are strangers that ye should 

"We be travellers from Kabul." 

"Pass on with haste, then; and give Allah thanks if 
ye go forth unscathed. Herat is no city for honest folk. 
The Shah and his Wazir devils in the flesh " his voice 
dropped to a hoarse whisper " be gone upon a journey 
to besiege some fortress of Seistan. But lest harmless 
folk prosper shamelessly in their absence they have 
delivered us into the hands of the devil's spawn, son of 
the Wazir, who filleth his pouches and glutteth his taste 
for blood while power is his." Again that hunted back- 
ward glance. " Get home, friends ! Get hence to the 
serai before hell, and the devils of hell, are let loose 
in our streets. Allah go with you. Though Allah 


himself hath seemingly lost will or power in these evil 

So the three, with their followers, rode on, puzzled no 
longer, but far from reassured. 

Arrived at the serai, the same tale greeted them with 
variations. Here in an open courtyard charged with friendly 
evening odours of hookah, spices and burnt cow-dung the 
restless ones of the earth foregathered horse-dealers, 
silk-merchants, holy men and men of the unholiest, united 
for a moment by the common lure of the road. Among 
these having stalled their mounts and baggage ponies 
the new-comers sat them down to an evening meal of 
curry, cliupattis and curds ; one bowl for all, and un- 
washen fingers for spoons. Pottinger though more or 
less inured by now to the close companionship of men 
strangers to soap and alive with vermin still shrank from 
this primitive form of fellowship. But upon this par- 
ticular evening hunger demanded satisfaction at any cost, 
and the ancient, inherited need of tobacco was strong 
upon him. The day's march had been a severe one. Its 
culmination in this City of Dreadful Night was none of 
the happiest ; and searching inquiry revealed no trace of 
his former comrades Abdullah and Allah Dad Khan. 

Silent as always in a mixed company of strangers, his 
ears w r ere quick to catch the talk of others ; talk such as 
no new arrival could hear without misgiving. Some said 
that the Shah and his Wazir were on the eve of return ; 
all seemed agreed that the coming of the Persians, so 
long a chimera, was now a matter of months. Nor did 
all regard it as a calamity by any means. For the Herati, 
like the Persian, is a Shiah ; and the Afghan Sunnis found 
sect antagonism a serviceable cloak for their innate love 
of tyranny and rapine. 

He who sat next to Pottinger, and had spent two weeks 


in the benighted city, dared to speak more openly of its 
so-called governors because to-morrow he would be on 
the road again, breathing cleaner air. 

" Consider only that which befel, a week past, to him 
with whom I lodged," he concluded, leaning closer to the 
pseudo-Afghan and regarding with frank curiosity the 
colour of his eyes. " One that lived uprightly, harming 
neither man nor beast. On a night, after dark, hearing 
sounds in his outhouse, he crept forth, and peering within 
knew the intruder for a thief of evil repute. Therefore 
he roused myself and other friends, and between us we 
delivered that son of Satan to the Kotwal. Next morn- 
ing came all of us before his Mightiness the young Sirdar. 
My friend told the tale straightly after his kind ; and the 
thief told another, after his own. Hearing cries in the 
night, said he, from the citizen's house, this valiant one 
had run forth with proffers of help. For reward he had 
been seized and falsely accused by these dogs of Heratis, 
whom he had come to aid. It was the word of one man 
against six, and that one a noted budmdsh. But it 
pleased the young Sirdar to assure the six they lied. My 
friend was sold forthwith to a Turcoman slave-dealer 
passing through the town ; and we witnesses were fined 
so heavily that all save myself were driven to debt, which 
is the road to slavery. Two were sold even yesterday. 
As for the thief it is now known that he is in the 
Sirdar's service, and hath reaped a bag of rupees and a 
dress of honour for his pains ! Such is the present fashion 
of justice in Herat ! Let the Persians come ! And these 
dogs of Sunnis be trodden in the dust ! " 

The tale roused a subdued hubbub of comment among 
those who sat near, and under cover of it Pottinger 
slipped away. Dead tired in body, sickened and disgusted 
at heart, he sought out a shadowed corner near the stall 


where his beasts were tethered. A pair of saddle-bags, 
uncomfortably well filled, served him for pillow ; and with 
his Afghan cloak for covering he laid him down upon 
the bare earth, praying after the simple manly fashion 
of his time for strength and guidance in the day of 

There, undeterred by the noise and movement of a 
crowded serdi, deep sleep fell upon him. But it did not 
last. Before midnight he was awakened by the stifling 
atmosphere and by a restless pariah in pursuit of fleas. 
With a curse he thrust away the animal, and turning on 
his side, thought to slip back into the blessedness of 
oblivion. But the first dead weariness was gone; and 
though sleep still hung heavy on his lids, brain and senses 
remained vexatiously alert. 

Within the serdi itself a great silence had fallen. Only 
from the shadows outstretched around him came the 
sonorous music of them that slept. But without, the 
tools of the Sirdar lovers of darkness were audibly 
astir. Sounds more ominous and heartrending could 
scarcely have been heard were the city already in a state 
of siege : the tramping of many feet, rough challengings, 
followed by the dull thud of blows upon human flesh and 
shrieks for mercy that went up unheeded to the blind, 
brilliant sky. The devils of hell let loose indeed ! 

The uproar seemed to increase and gather strength as 
the night wore on. But once more weariness prevailed ; 
and an hour later he fell asleep again upon a fervent hope 
that his friends from Kutch would not keep him waiting 
long in this accursed place, where neither profit for him- 
self nor others might be his. 


THE seventeenth of September found him waiting still 
not so much for his comrades as for the sextant, com- 
passes and books, too precious to be lightly abandoned. 
Four weeks and no word of them, nor any means of 
obtaining it. Visions of further travel grew fainter with 
each week of delay, and all he could now hope to achieve 
was a return journey to India by a different route. 

But the sanguine spirit of the man was equal to any 
fortune. The long hot days were spent in writing and 
studying, whenever his old enemy fever would permit ; 
his evenings, in exploring the city and its relics of 
vanished greatness. If energy failed him, hours could 
be idled away under the shade of giant plane trees, set 
among the roses of the Bagh-Shah and Gazur-Ghur, 
beyond the walls ; or in long talks of India with the very 
holy Fakir, who had tramped a thousand miles or so from 
Delhi to end his days sitting at the gate of the great 
Masulla mosque. That marvel of twelfth-century work- 
manship twenty-five years a-building and then left in- 
complete suffered destruction some fifty years later, 
when Herat was threatened by a siege more formidable 
than the first. But in 1837 it still stood undesecrated. 
The glazed mosaic tiling of gateway, cupola and minarets 
still glowed in the strong sunlight ; the prevailing flower- 
pattern wrought out, in mellow tones of brown, copper- 
green and heavenly flashes of turquoise blue, upon a 
ground the tint of ripe corn. Purely Persian in colour 
and design, it was a legacy from the days before com- 



petition and the tyranny of time ; days when art was the 
hand-maid of religion, and beauty the Alpha and Omega 
of the architect's creed. 

From the base of the plateau, skirting the foot-hills, 
ruins and again more ruins of some vaster ancient 
capital, whereof Herat itself may have been but the 
citadel. For here were broken remnants of baths, public 
buildings, temples and tombs innumerable, from the 
mosque proper to the mere heaps of stones, with its pole 
and fluttering wisp of rag, to indicate that the bones 
beneath were holy. Other wisps of rag propitiatory 
offerings of the credulous were strewn broadcast over 
these mounds ; and when to rags were added the horns 
of wild goats, exceeding holiness was proven beyond 
dispute. These and other details Pottinger learnt in 
long rambles with his Kabul friend, Syud Hussain, him- 
self a traveller, and somewhat cynical in his view of men 
and things. 

Said Pottinger, commenting on the prevalence of rag- 
bedecked graves : " Verily you Afghans be a nation of 
holy men, Syud-jee! " 

And the other, chuckling in his beard : " Of rascals 
and cut-throats rather ! So great is our need of Allah's 
indulgence that we, being wise, manufacture the means 
to come by it at every turn. Enough for an Afghan to 
stumble upon an heap of stones strewn with a rag or two, 
and at once he will devise the ever-serviceable saint 
beneath. Remaineth only to pile on more stones, tear a 
strip from his turban, set it on a stick in the midst and 
lo, the wonder is wrought ! Others following will add 
more rags, more stones. Some Mullah will, of his gener- 
osity, add a legend doubtless revealed in a dream ! " 
Hussain 's left eyelid flickered " and thereafter come 
pilgrims, miracles, not to speak of many rupees ; till 


some rival Mullah shall discover a larger tomb, a holier 
saint, and the pious traffic changeth hands. Verily, a 
dead dog, among Afghans, hath greater power than many 
live lions. True talk, Sahib. Even these twin devils, 
the Wazir and the Shah, will be worshipped exceedingly 
once the flesh is off their bones. It will be seen if we 
live so long ! " 

A prophecy duly fulfilled. 

On the whole, but for minor miseries of dirt, greasy 
food and hourly risk of robbery or personal attack, the 
life was less unpleasant than might be supposed for a 
man partially inured, and eternally interested in thoughts 
and customs other than his own. But the coming of the 
Persians was now a certainty ; and it would be well to 
leave before the country became too unsafe for travelling. 
Still, from day to day he lingered, hoping against hope 
to recover the treasures that he had, perhaps, been wiser 
not to part with at all. 

In this mood of mind he rode away from the city on 
that blazing September afternoon to watch the return of 
Shah Kamran and his army from a toy campaign, in which 
had been frittered away men and money soon to be 
needed for life and death issues. Out of their window- 
less rabbit holes the people had crept forth, and clustered 
on the flat roofs and walls, thick as bees, in no spirit of 
loyalty and rejoicing ; simply in a common impulse of 
eagerness for any tamdsha, whatever the issue. 

Arrived at the foot of a ruined building, Pottinger was 
hailed by a party of Afghans squatting behind the 
parapet of its domed roof. " They come ! They come ! " 
was the cry passed from house-top to house-top, from 
wall to wall, and tethering his horse Pottinger clambered 
up to the nearest point of vantage. 


They came : emerging leisurely from the heart of a 
dust cloud, a straggling, ill-assorted procession : baggage 
mules and horsemen bearing the marks of battle; criers 
and executioners, in scarlet head-gear, flourishing grisly 
Afghan knives and tiger-headed maces of brass; more 
horses, regally equipped, and closely followed by his 
Highness the King in a litter of scarlet cloth. Thick- 
set, pock-marked, and yet more plainly marked by 
unbridled self-indulgence, there was little of kingliness 
or of power in the aspect of Shah Kamran, last but one 
of a self-extinguished race. His very title had long been 
little better than a gilded toy, clutched the more tena- 
ciously because the substance had slipped from his hands. 
But to-day, seated in his scarlet litter, simply yet royally 
clad, his unimposing forehead surmounted by an imposing 
turban, the toy seemed almost the real thing. His 
people shouted more from instinct than from any hope 
of redress ; and he, drawing the curtains of his litter, 
returned their greeting with a semblance of kingly 
graciousness empty as his title. 

So he passed on with his escort of royal princes, 
eunuchs and physicians, giving place after a due interval 
of dust and shouting to the greater man, well content 
to ride second, because in all matters of moment he stood 
incontestably first. Him Pottinger scrutinized more 
keenly, for something of the Wazir's character his un- 
scrupulous ability, his flagrant traffic in human flesh 
had already become known to those interested in the 
stormy politics of Central Asia. 

Here, at least, was power, brutal and barbarous, but 
yet power ; the virile force that makes history and 
carves the destinies of men. The coarse, cruel lips, 
aggressive brows and sharply-sloping forehead were 
counterbalanced by a handsome beard and eyes singularly 
compelling; eyes that perhaps explained why the men 


who were his tools, though they hated him secretly, 
failed him never. Before him went the infantry, a 
motley crowd much the worse for wear ; behind, local 
chiefs with the main body of Afghan cavalry, in a rough 
attempt at uniform. And as he too passed on, the 
Englishman, looking after him, recognized that there 
went a force to be reckoned with, not by himself alone, 
but by the rival Powers to whom he seemed no more 
than a pawn or possibly a knight, from the nature of 
his moves in their international game of chess. 

The procession ended as it had begun, in a swirl of 
dust devils. City walls and house-tops took up the 
dutiful shout of welcome. Then the Heratis crept again 
into their holes, and Eldred Pottinger, riding leisurely 
back through the silence and the haze, debated in his 
mind the wisdom of making himself known. Fresh news 
of a kafila expected from Kandahar inclined him to 
give his egregious comrades one more chance ; in which 
case it might be safer, and certainly more congenial, to 
have done with the wiles and evasions of disguise. 

Instead of riding on to the city, he dismounted at the 
Bagh-Shah for a stroll among its rose bushes, now near- 
ing an end of their second glory. The place was almost 
empty, the air a colourless haze, laden with fine powder 
of dust. Evening strollers would arrive before long, 
and footsteps behind did not disturb his train of thought. 
It was broken abruptly by a hand on his arm, and a deep- 
toned voice speaking in Hindustani 

" Sahib, these many days I have watched, saying, 
' This is no Afghan ! ' Now I am assured." 

Pottinger started, and turned sharply upon the owner 
of the voice, a benevolent-looking Mahomedan, whose 
smile of welcome was obviously sincere. " By what 
cause? And who art thou? " he asked, not at once 


"I am one Hakeem Mahomed Hussain of this city, 
lately returned from a journey. I am also, from my 
heart, the friend of all who serve the young White 
Queen. True talk. Your Honour can speak openly, 
without risk, to one who has served Conolly Sahib ; may 
Allah grant him health and high promotion! " 

"Conolly Sahib?" 

The Hakeem nodded, beaming. " Such was my good 
fortune. He is known to your Honour? " 

" By report only." 

" Great, then, is the pleasure to come. All who knew 
him here can bear me witness that, young as he was, 
through his wisdom and uprightness, he made the Eng- 
lish no less famous in Herat than did Elphinstone Sahib 
at Kabul. But I, who served him, know, better than all. 
his nobleness of heart. Me he took with him to India, 
perceiving my great wish for further skill in the use of 
drugs, and placed me in the College of Medicine at 
Calcutta. There, by his help, and the kindness of many 
Doctor Sahibs, I became so much overflowed with new 
learning that I can now help, if only a little, these 
suffering folk of mine own city. The Sahib hath seen? " 

Pottinger nodded, frowning. The subject still stirred 
in him anger too hot for speech. The Hakeem nodded 
also. "Your Honour's heart is inflamed because of 
tyranny and torture. Such are not the ways of the Eng- 
lish, even with subjects of alien race and creed. In 
their right hand is justice and in the left mercy. But 

here ! Your Honour is right. Evils so shameful are 

beyond speech. You also are travelling, like Conolly 
Sahib, to increase knowledge? " 

"Yes; I am an officer of the Bombay Top-Khana, 1 
exploring the country. But I have been hindered and 
1 Artillery. 


delayed, awaiting two comrades from Kandahar. Now, 
however, I leave shortly, come they or not." 

" And it is your Honour's pleasure to remain unrecog- 

" Yes ; but to-day I have been thinking by reason of 
the Shah's return " 

"Sahib, that is a good thought," the Hakeem broke 
in eagerly. " I am Herati. I know. But say rather 
by reason of Yar Mahomed Khan. In his hands are the 
lives of all. If the Sahib avow himself, all may be well. 

But if suspicion arise " he spread out both hands 

expressively. " How shall the man who knows not truth 
perceive it on the lips of others? Much trouble might 
follow, even to imprisonment through hope of ransom. 
Lose no time, Sahib, I beg. His eyes are in every corner 
of the city." 

Pottinger regarded his new acquaintance thoughtfully 
for a moment. " You are a good friend, Hakeem 
Sahib," said he. 

The Moslem salaamed almost to the ground. "Your 
Honour's welfare is as my own ; and my house, with such 
hospitality as I can offer, is at your service from this 

If his words had a touch of Eastern fulsomeness, 
events proved their sincerity ; and the Englishman, after 
a moment's thought, accepted the invitation. 

" Allah be praised ! " said the Hakeem in all gravity. 
" And the Sahib will no longer delay to make himself 
known? " 

"To-morrow morning I will wait upon Yar Mahomed 
Khan," Pottinger answered quietly; and, so answering, 
rounded the second great turning-point in his life. 


THE house of Yar Mahomed Khan differed from that 
of the ordinary mortal mainly in size, and in the fact that 
its great entrance courtyard had the appearance of a 
barrack square. Here newly-pressed recruits were drilled 
under the Wazir's supervision ; while at all hours the 
place was thronged with soldiers, petitioners and lesser 
chiefs, who would cheerfully spend the whole day waiting 
audience, so long as hookahs and gossip were to be had. 

Now, into the midst of these came a Syud of northern 
aspect, who announced himself as a traveller, desiring 
immediate speech with the Wazir ; and his kismet being 
favourable, delay was short. Thankful for escape from 
prying eyes, he followed his guide through the stifling 
dusk of inner passages and rooms to the sanctum of the 
tyrant whose eyes were in every corner of the city. 

Yesterday he had seen the potentate : to-day he saw 
the man. Fresh from his bath in simple white clothing, 
Kashmir waistcoat and black Persian cap, Yar Mahomed 
sat at ease in the mud alcove of his dressing-room, and, 
rising, graciously returned the stranger's salaam. Then, 
because it is not meet to come empty-handed before great 
ones, and because his possessions were few, Pottinger 
presented a pair of detonating pistols, the most valuable 
gift at his command. 

It seemed the gift was propitious, for the Minister 
smiled, and, smiling, revealed teeth like weatherworn 
tombstones, crooked and discoloured. 

"Be seated, friend," said he, with a courteous suavity 



that almost redeemed his evil aspect. " Your holiness is 
from Afghanistan? " 

"No, from India," Pottinger answered bluntly. "I 
am no holy man but an officer of the White Queen's 

Yar Mahomed suppressed a start of surprise, and his 
glance dwelt more purposefully upon the stranger's face. 

" Blue eyes be rare in my country. I should have 
known. The Sahib travels for pleasure? " 

' 'Yes, and for better knowledge of men and cities. 
I had need to adopt the garb of a holy man in passing 
through the Hazara highlands." 

"The Hazara highlands? Aha! A brave man! 
Next to gold we Afghans love nothing like courage. And 
ever since the coming of Conolly Sahib your country- 
men have been welcome in Herat. Show me your heart 
openly, as brother to brother. Have no fear." 

Thus encouraged, Pottinger told his tale, if not pre- 
cisely as brother to brother, at least as man to man ; 
straightly, yet with due reserve. 

The Wazir declared himself overjoyed to entertain a 
nephew of one so well reported as Colonel Pottinger 
Sahib of Sindh. Nay, more, the Minister Sahib at 
Tehran had urged, often, the wisdom of sending an 
envoy from Herat to the Burra Lot Sahib 1 of Hind. 
And what better opportunity than the present? Thus 
would his guest's safe conduct be assured and his own 
friendship for England doubly proven. He did not add 
that thus also would his guest be kept under the eye of 
men instructed to report his every speech and move. 
He merely begged the Sahib would wait a while longer, 
that he, Yar Mahomed, might enjoy the pleasure and 
profit of his society, and might also have time to receive 

1 Governor-General. 
F 2 


certain expected advices from Sir John McNeill. Delay 
again. But refusal were impolitic, and since he could 
travel no farther, Pottinger consented to wait a week 
or two in the hope of regaining his lost property 
after all. 

He waited, a welcome guest in the house of Mahomed 
Hussain, glad, at last, to dispense with colour stains, and 
all that these implied. The Wazir 's friendliness was un- 
failing ; but two weeks expanded into a month, and still 
no sign of Allah Dad Khan, nor word of permission to 
depart. Seven months of living with Orientals, in the 
vast leisurely atmosphere of eternity, cures a man of 
counting the hours and days as though they were seed 
pearls; but Pottinger's small stock of money was 
dwindling, and time enough must be allowed upon the 
return journey for unforeseen exigencies by the way. By 
October, the Persian army was reported well beyond 
Meshed, and he had no wish to be caught like a rat in 
a trap. 

At the end of the month, having but five ducats left, 
he sent word to the Wazir, begging him to nominate an 
envoy and give him leave to depart. For answer, his 
presence was requested at the Minister's house forthwith ; 
and hopeful of at last obtaining final instructions, 
Pottinger obeyed. 

He was received this time in Yar Mahomed's private 
hall of audience, where he and a posse of local chiefs 
passed the time, swaggering mightily of Afghan prowess 
and the drastic treatment Persia should receive at their 

Pottinger, as usual, was made heartily welcome, even 
to the elaborate Afghan embrace. Then said the Wazir, 
motioning him to a seat of honour: "This is no true 


friendliness, O Pottinger Sahib, this eagerness to be gone 
when trouble is at our door." 

" But, Wazir Sahib, consider " 

" Nay, listen, till you hear our wishes in this matter. 
For the present I send no envoy to India. Instead, I 
request that you prove the good feeling of your country 
towards mine by remaining in Herat to give such help 
and advice as you are able. In plain speech I will not 
give you leave to go." 

Here was a volte face, startling as it was unwelcome ; 
and the Englishman had some ado to keep himself in 

"Is it friendliness on your part, Wazir Sahib?" he 
protested, not without heat, " to bid me remain, when it 
is well known to you that I am not free to go or stay 
at your pleasure or my own. If the soldiers of your army 
take leave, must they not return within the given time? 
To overstay my leave of absence may mean loss of pro- 
motion and will assuredly deprive me of any izzat * I 
might otherwise earn by my travels. Consider, then, if 
I am blameworthy in asking leave to go." 

Yar Mahomed scowled thoughtfully at the Persian rug 
on which he sat. To blame this straight-spoken son of 
Britain were folly ; impolitic, also, to retain him against 
his will. But the Wazir was a shrewd judge of character. 
He had recognized long since the uprightness and courage 
hid beneath Pottinger 's plain, unobtrusive bearing ; and 
had, no doubt, perceived how these might be turned to 
his own account. This soldier of the White Queen was 
not his to command. But there were other methods ; and 
for all his ingrained brutality, Yar Mahomed could be, 
if necessary, the most plausible, the most persuasive of 

1 Honour. 


When he looked up again, the frown was gone. " You 
are right, my friend. If you feel bound to go, I have 
no power to command that you remain." 

But at that all the chiefs who were present set up a 
clamour of remonstrance, declaring, in spite of their 
former swagger, that without this English officer (experi- 
enced in the infernal ways of guns) to reorganize the 
defences and speak with the enemy in the gate, Herat 
would fall in pieces at one blow. 

In the midst of the Babel Yar Mahomed appealed 
to Pottinger, with shoulders lifted and hands eloquently 
outspread. "You see how it is with us, Sahib? So 
great is our faith in the dreaded Feringhi when there is 
fighting and difficult work to be done. It is true, also, 
that you have eaten our salt, and it is against our custom 
for guest to desert host in the time of trouble. Can 
there not any arrangement be made, any communication 
with your Government, to explain? " 

This cunning appeal to the other's generosity did not 
fail of its intent. Pottinger 's belief that the city must 
fall quickened his British predilection for the forlorn 
hope, the losing game. 

" Sooner than seem discourteous, Wazir Sahib, I am 
at your service," he answered simply burning his boats. 
" I will take the chance of my explanation being accepted 
by Government. But I must tell you frankly you will 
find me quite a useless person, having no political 
authority to interfere in your affairs, and small knowledge 
of British relations with Persia or with your own state." 

Yar Mahomed dismissed minor considerations with a 
sweep of his hand. He had gained his point. It was 
enough. Pottinger must needs endure a second embrace 
and an ovation of Eastern compliment. 

" Friend and ally of princes in distress ! True source 


of a valorous and noble origin, may God prolong your 
days ! May you be upon the carpet of wealth and for- 
tune and rise to the seat of magnificence and power. 
As for lack of knowledge and authority, our izzat is 
increased merely by your presence in our midst. With 
the Kajjar, 1 I am told, come two gentlemen Sahiban. It 
is meet that Herat also should possess a gentleman Sahib 
to speak with them, and enforce fair bargain between 
oppressors and oppressed." 

Such words from such lips made Pottinger smile to see 
how completely change of position will change the point 
of view. But the assurance that Sir John McNeill would 
accompany Mahomed Shah set his last doubts at rest ; 
and he went forth from the assembly, to ponder at leisure 
on the abrupt, unlooked-for turn of events. 

By way of preliminary, he insisted on writing at once 
to Captain Burnes, long since established at Kabul, where 
he had been treated with confidence and friendliness by 
Dost Mahomed Khan, and hoped, in return, to achieve 
the closer alliance with England on which the Amir had 
set his heart. 

To his uncle in Kutch, Pottinger wrote a fuller account 
of himself and his position : made all arrangements to 
lodge with Conolly's Hakeem, and thereafter devoted 
himself zealously to the repairing of defences, that at 
many points were fast crumbling to decay. 

About this time runners brought news that the 
Persian army had reached Toorbat, not a hundred and 
fifty miles distant. The advance guard, alone, was 
reputed ten thousand strong ; and Herat, from a popula- 
tion of seventy thousand, could but muster ten thousand 
troops all told. Her effective fighting force numbered 

1 Persian. 


only half that amount, undisciplined and ill-trained. 
With these and ten guns such as they were four miles 
of wall must be defended against an organized army, far 
too well provided with cover, in the shape of villages, 
ruins and orchards, crowding, on the west and south, to 
the very base of the gigantic earthworks, their strongest 
rock of defence. 

Even the most sanguine could not call the outlook other 
than unpromising. But if the enemy found cover ready 
to hand, he should at least not find forage and food. 
These were poured into the city daily from surrounding 
villages ; and with them came peasant folk in their scores 
and hundreds, craving protection. Streets and bazaars 
swarmed with a restless, panic-stricken multitude. The 
very ruins were tenanted, and five or six families occupied 
the house of one. But to bring in all the produce of that 
amazingly fertile valley was beyond human power ; and 
the word went forth that the residue be destroyed : out- 
standing crops, forage, and even the very orchards that 
might serve as firewood. 

To these wholesale precautions without, Yar Mahomed 
added precautions within against the ever-present danger 
of treachery or open revolt. These took the character- 
istic form of fines, torture or imprisonment wherever 
infidelity was suspected ; or, more often, perhaps, wher- 
ever hid treasure was rumoured to exist. The man's 
greed of money amounted to a disease; and now to his 
natural appetite was added the stimulus of genuine need. 
All Herat knew this, and trembled ; each asking the 
other, "Who will be the next?" The very Mullahs 
of the Shiah sect were seized and imprisoned lest they stir 
up the people. 

Upon the ramparts a wholesomer activity prevailed. 
The noise of building, the ring of the hammer upon iron 


filled men's ears all day and often half the night. Scout 
parties went forth to harry the advancing troops and cut 
off stragglers. These returned with few prisoners and 
loud denunciation of the Persians as the most contempt- 
ible cowards in all Central Asia. Was ever the like 
heard, that men, calling themselves soldiers, should march 
in a close-packed mass guarded by guns, like a crowd of 
fearful women, instead of straggling hither and thither 
to display their own daring and give the enemy a chance 
to do likewise ! Wait only till those women- warriors sat 
down before Herat ; then would the thwarted heroes 
prove upon their bodies the stuff whereof the troopers of 
Afghanistan are made! Meantime, the tale of their 
preliminary captures multiplied, like the men in buckram, 
and the less adventurous were duly impressed. 

As for Eldred Pottinger, throughout the stir of pre- 
paration, wherever active, honest work was toward, there 
he was to be found ; directing, exhorting and, when need 
be, putting his own hand to the plough. For him the 
whole affair was a unique adventure, undreamed of in 
his wildest imaginings. After weeks of aimless waiting, 
the demand for definite action was pure relief, and the 
prospect of his first taste of warfare stirred the fighting 
blood in his veins. True, his isolated, undefined position 
bristled with difficulties, but he was not of those who go 
half-way to meet them. Like all men of practical power, 
he gave himself, with both hands, to the present moment, 
the present need. As regards the future one duty, at 
least, was plain. It was his to uphold in word and 
act the character of a British gentleman in the eyes 
of those who knew him, and of the God in whom he 
believed with a simple, whole-hearted faith, less rare in 
the early days of Victoria than in those of King George. 

And still day by day the Persian force crept nearer : 


a force formidable enough, by all accounts, to make short 
work of Herat, in spite of swaggering Afghan heroes 
and a Feringhi officer Sahib, who spoke little and achieved 
more than all the said heroes put together. 

A sharp spell of frost, in early November, raised hopes 
that a severe winter might prevent the horrors of a long 
investment; but upon the 15th came couriers from the 
frontier with news that startled and dismayed the bravest. 
The fortress of Ghorian, reputed stronger than Herat, 
And defended by a picked garrison under Yar Mahomed's 
own brother, had surrendered to the Shah. A disaster 
so unexpected suggested treachery or cowardice within 
the walls. The Wazir took the blacker view; openly 
denounced Shere Mahomed true son of a Kashmirian 
mother, and pushed on the defences with redoubled zeal, 
that it might be seen how an Afghan of unmixed birth 
would defend his own. 

But the days of preparation drew to an end ; and the 
day of action was at hand. 

On November the 22nd the advanced guard formed 
up on a wide plain to the north-west, and the voice of 
Mahomed Shah's field artillery was heard in the land. 
Guns from the city towers flung back the opening chal- 
lenge, and a preliminary skirmish ensued. On the 23rd 
ame the great main body Persian and Russian, but no 
British ambassador, to Pottinger's regret. McNeill had 
.sent, instead, his assistant, Colonel Stoddart, to look after 
British interests and, if might be, patch up a reconcilia- 
tion between Shah and Shah. 

But now, at all events, the word was War. Earth- 
works were thrown up, a vast camp sprang magically into 
being. Ruins, orchards and enclosures under the ram- 
parts were occupied in force. The siege of Herat had 


We take up the task eternal, and the burden, and the lesson 

Pioneers ! Pioneers ! 

Conquering, holding, daring, venturing, as we go the unknown ways 
Pioneers ! Pioneers ! 

Not for delectations sweet ; 

Not the cushion and the slipper ; not the peaceful and the studious ; 
Not the riches, safe and palling ; not for us the tame enjoyment 
Pioneers ! Pioneers ! 


WAR, that breeds heroes and proves men, as the 
furnace proves the potter's vessel, has few horrors, in her 
long and varied list, to outrival that of a protracted siege. 
And in an Asiatic city horror is piled on horror by 
gratuitous brutality, by all-pervading dirt, lack of drain- 
age, discipline, and the power to act in unison. 

Such were the conditions at Herat when thirty thousand 
Persians sat down beneath her ramparts and opened hos- 
tilities with an imposing discharge of artillery that set 
her rotten parapets falling like tinder about her defenders' 
ears. But at that time neither side dreamed of a pro- 
tracted siege. Mahomed Shah was out for conquest and 
looked to make short work of it; the most sanguine 
Afghans did not expect to hold out more than a few 
weeks, while to Pottinger it was plain that the Persians 
needed only engineers and a skilled general to carry all 
before them. 

Happily for Herat they possessed neither, but were at 
the mercy of many masters, each intent upon his own 
laurels, his own chosen point of attack. Unity of plan 
or concerted action there was none, nor even, for a 
time, any attempt at stringent investment. With true 
Oriental improvidence and bombast they made haste to 
exhaust their ammunition in spasmodic outbursts of firing, 
the range too erratic, and the whole affair too casual to 
do much mischief. But the whistle of flying bullets and 
the flaring rush of rockets overhead struck terror into 
the fearful Heratis, huddled in masses on the roof-tops, 



wailing and beseeching Allah to ward off the fire-born 
spirits of evil that added a new terror to life. Shells 
thrown less at random left ruin in their wake ; dust, 
charred woodwork and human fragments horrible to see. 
But for the most part the firing was directed against the 
parapets ; and the mass of rubbish, falling inwards, was 
promptly utilized by Pottinger to support the battered 
fortifications. Thus, the body of the old rampart became 
a parapet, and the summit of the new, built from within, 
a point of vantage for defending breaches when made. 

Whether these ever could be made became more and 
more a matter of question as day followed day, and 
beyond their lively display of fireworks the Persians gave 
no sign of an organized attack, or of a bold attempt to 
take the place by escalade. Sorties and skirmishes kept 
up a creditable air of hostility; and by means of the 
former the Heratis carried on, with more dash than 
science, their spirited defence. Three out of the five 
city gates were kept open ; supplies brought in and cattle 
sent out to graze. By night they sallied boldly forth to 
harry the Persian sappers and plunder their tools. By 
day the heads of the slaughtered were joyfully paraded 
on the ramparts, to the infinite disgust of Pottinger, who 
could never speak of "this barbarous and inhuman con- 
duct with any temper." For the Afghans, the public 
flaunting of their prowess was the best part of the fun ; 
and since rewards were forthcoming, the warriors outvied 
one another in their zeal. 

"Regard favourably, oh thou Mighty, the valour of 
this slave! " cried one upon a day of December, when 
Yar Mahomed stood on the works, with his young Eng- 
lish ally, discussing the details of the next sortie. A 
pair of blood-stained ears emerged from the speaker's 
tunic, and from his lips a circumstantial tale of his ei>- 


counter with the victim. Duly rewarded with a cloak 
and a handful of ducats, he seized them and fled without 
staying for further boast or compliment. 

Half-an-hour later came a fresh adventurer, disfigured 
with the stains of battle. 

"The reward of courage, O most Valiant! " said he,, 
and laid a mud-smeared head upon the ground. 

Yar Mahomed, turning to give the order, kicked aside 
the pitiful object, and so became aware of a deficiency. 

"Oh, ho! Was this unfortunate born incomplete? " 
he asked, with a grim chuckle. "Or be the ears God 
gave him hid in thy tunic for the next occasion? " 

Without answer and without reward the hero vanished 
from the ramparts ; and a retainer, picking up the trophy, 
recognized it for the head of a comrade fallen on the 
preceding night. 

"Inshallah! these be mighty men of valour! " shouted 
the enraged Wazir. " Go, belabour the scoundrel with- 
out mercy. And as for him of the ears any man who- 
can may possess himself of the cloak and ducats, ay, and 
of the long tongue that stole them. Shameful talk, that 
lies be rendered in place of service for a mere handful 
of silver! " 

The bystanders, in duty bound, chorused approval ; 
and Pottinger, musing upon a certain tale of the pot and 
kettle, went back to his house. 

That night it was told him in confidence that a Shiah 
Mullah, suspected of hidden wealth, had died under the 
hands of the torturers. 

In this fashion December dragged wearily to an end. 
Within a month some thousand rounds of ammunition- 
had been wasted upon mud walls, proverbially unrespon- 
sive to anything more disturbing than dynamite or heavy 
cannon. Convoys had been despatched for a fresh supply. 


But their return would be a matter of weeks ; and in the 
meantime the besiegers bethought them of methods more 
effective than spasmodic fireworks. Early in the New 
Year it was discovered that active mining operations were 
being carried on at several points, a discovery that filled 
Afghans and Heratis alike with the bewildered, unreason- 
ing terror of the unknown. Visible bullets, flying at 
noonday, were as nothing to the devil that worked in 
darkness under their feet ; and a proclamation went forth, 
calling upon the Mullahs to collect fresh working parties 
from among the people. 

It was while this new panic prevailed that Shere 
Mahomed sometime Commandant of Ghorian appeared 
beneath the walls and demanded audience of the Wazir. 
The demand was refused in language more peremptory 
than polite; and for answer came word of warning that 
unless Herat were given up, he Shere Mahomed would 
be slain, the city stormed, the Wazir hanged like a dog 
and his womenfolk publicly dishonoured. 

But even in the hour of panic Yar Mahomed was not 
the man to be browbeaten by empty threats. 

" Bid the Sirdar Sahib carry my thanks to the Shah-in- 
Shah," replied he, " that he saveth me the trouble of kill- 
ing a traitor who is no true brother of mine. When the 
city is taken Mahomed Shah may deal with me as he wills ; 
remembering always that I am his Majesty's most faithful 
servant. Only in this matter obedience is impossible. 
The Afghans will not hear the surrender." 

So Shere Mahomed went away sorrowing, with the 
curse of a vengeful brother on his head. Herat was not 
given up, neither was he slain nor the fortress stormed. 
But the incident had set Yar Mahomed thinking ; and not 
many days later Pottinger received word that the Wazir 
wished to speak with him on a matter of importance. 


NOT without cause did Yar Mahomed Khan, of Herat, 
become known as the Napoleon of Central Asia, though 
the Asiatic's genius was rather that of the keen-witted 
unscrupulous politician than of a conqueror and leader 
of men. Singleness of purpose outside the paramount 
purpose of his own advancement was a state of mind 
unknown to him. "Heads I win. Tails you lose." 
There you have the man's mountain-top of philosophy 
to which he clave through his long, unedifying career 
with a constancy worthy of a higher creed. 

Even in the early days of preparation for war he had 
written smooth words to the Most Exalted, Light of 
Religion and Father of Victory, begging that he would 
honour his faithful servant by a visit to Herat, there 
remaining till it should be his pleasure to march on Kabul 
and Kandahar; and for these good offices he had been 
promised ultimate possession of Kamran's kingdom. Yet, 
when there came news from Kandahar that its chief 
leaned towards Persia, Yar Mahomed wrote in right- 
eous wrath of disgrace to the Afghan name, and of his 
own willingness to deliver Herat itself into their hands 
sooner than yield it to followers of Ali ! 1 Again, while 
impressing on Pottinger, with engaging frankness, his 
sincere desire for British help and British good will, he 
secretly assured his Eastern friends that all he wanted of 
England was gold, and if that were not forthcoming no 
longer would he tolerate the infidel within his gates. 

1 Shiahs (Persians). 
G 81 


The infidel's own opinion of the man and his methods 
is worth recording. 

"The minister, throughout all negotiations . . . 
invariably threw the blame of the defence on some one 
else, and regretted being obliged to fight. He also 
avoided mixing himself up with any act decidedly 
hostile to Persian prejudices; allowing some of his 
friends to act, and then, under a show (to the 
Persians) of inquiry, sharing the advantages. . . . 
With that shrewdness which characterizes the 
Afghan nation, he saw the favourable position he 
was in and availed himself of it to the utmost. . . . 
He therefore addressed himself to the task of de- 
fence, but took steps to secure his own interest in 
the event of a reverse." 

With just such a step in view he had sent for his young 
British friend, the one human being in a city of thou- 
sands on whom he could implicitly rely. Lest some 
unforeseen catastrophe arise, it were well he should lose 
no time in sending a diplomatic message of mediation to 
the Great King : and now it seemed that the acceptable 
moment had arrived. 

He received his visitor alone, without formality ; and 
Pottinger, knowing his man, guessed what was in the air. 
A smile of mutual understanding passed between them, 
and for a moment neither spoke. 

A notable contrast at any time, these two ; but the 
effect was heightened since Pottinger had dispensed with 
colour juices and washed the dye out of his warm brown 
beard. He still wore Eastern dress, as much for con- 
venience as for lack of any other ; and a year's exposure. 
plus artificial staining, had darkened his fair skin almost 
to the tint of an Afghan mountaineer's. In both faces 


it was the eyes that arrested attention and struck the 
keynote of character. But from the blue ones there 
looked forth a soul of innate and steadfast nobility ; while 
the brown ones glowed with the fire and force of a mind 
unhampered by the soul's superfluous sensibilities. Both 
men were amply endowed with physical courage and 
strength of will ; both possessed the hall-mark of 
character individuality, by virtue of which they stand 
forth in high relief against the confused background of 
that seething, suffering city, whose immediate fate lay 
more or less in their hands. 

For the rest, day and night had more affinity than they 
two ; and a friendly alliance between such mighty 
opposites each so typical of the East and West they 
stood for had in itself all the elements of drama. 

Yar Mahomed broached his plan without preamble, 
adding b}' way of inducement : " For such an undertaking 
there is but one man acceptable in all Herat. No Afghan 
would venture : no Shiah could be trusted. Remaineth 
only yourself. You are willing ? " 

" Assuredly. In this, as in all else, I am at your 
service. It will be a great pleasure to meet Colonel 
Stoddart and speak my own language again. You have 
letters? Forme?" 

He glanced eagerly at three folded and sealed slips of 
paper in the minister's hand, for the superscription was 
English, and words from the outer world were jewels 
beyond price. 

" One of them, yes. From Kandahar. Leech Sahib 
no doubt. These others, that are for McNeill and Stod- 
dart Sahib, you can deliver. But first, by God's good- 
ness, we are enabled to overlook the contents." 

Pottinger frowned sharply. " Excuse me, Wazir 
Sahib. In all straightforward work I have said you may 

G 2 


command my services ; but if you open other men's letters 
you must find some one else to read them." 

The Asiatic shrugged his shoulders. "A wise pre- 
caution, that is all. You followers of the Nazarene lose 
much by your squeamishness. But in this case the gain 
is mine, giving fresh proof that we can send you in all 
confidence to speak with our enemies. To-morrow, at 
this hour, you shall wait upon the Shah. To-day, 
because of the cough that troubles him, he hath taken 
an over large dose of the dewai l which cureth every ill ! " 

He showed his discoloured teeth in an evil grin, and 
Pottinger understood. It was well known in Herat that 
Shah Kamran, prematurely broken down by unbridled 
licence, was now completing the process of degradation 
by drink. He, whose gusts of passion had set men's 
hearts hammering against their ribs; he, who in lustier 
days had openly ransacked the houses of his subjects 
with a band of armed retainers, seizing whatever chanced 
to take his fancy, from wife or daughter to a bagful of 
ducats ; he, Shah Kamran, last of the Saddozais, was now 
little more than the peevish appendage to a fluttering 
pulse and a haunting fear : the fear of a poisoned morsel 
or the knife between the shoulder-bones that would end 
all. As a matter of fact he was strangled in Yar 
Mahomed's own good time. Meanwhile, a serviceable 
puppet, jerked alternately by his Wazir and his chief 
eunuch, he soaked in spirits and lived almost like a 
prisoner in the Arkino, or high citadel at the northern 
end of the town. 

Thither Pottinger was led next morning : elated at the 
prospect of adventure that might release him from an 
anomalous position and Herat from the miseries of 

1 Medicine. 


Passing through the by-ways of the city, where 
hardly a shop had escaped destruction, his heart was 
smitten afresh with pity for those hapless ones, for whom 
were all the bitterest dregs, whether of defeat or victory. 

Arrived at the Arkino a fort within a fort Pottinger 
was ushered into the cheerless room of state, furnished 
with a carpet and cushions, with eunuchs and a chief 
physician always at hand to proffer some new and infall- 
ible dewai, whose precise effects concerned the royal 
invalid far more nearly than the fate of his city. The 
Englishman's arrival interrupted an absorbing colloquy 
on the results of a cooling draught administered that 
morning : but at sight of the envoy a sudden spark 
glowed among the half-extinguished ashes of kingship. 

" Aha! Pottinger Sahib, friend of Yar Mahomed and 
defender of our great city, go boldly forth, bearing a 
Shah's message to a Shah." 

A wild, incoherent message it proved ; a long-winded 
catalogue of merits and wrongs, ingratitude and in- 
justice, and culminating in a rude outburst of mingled 
self-pity and reproach. 

" Behold, how generous is the conduct of Mahomed 
Shah ! Is it nothing that I refused help to usurping 
princes and rebellious chiefs, looking in return for troops 
and treasure to regain mine own lost kingdom ? And 
now, my supplication is answered by the roar of cannon 
and bombs, the cry of the wounded and the odour of 
the dead ! Say to him : ' Here be my women and 
children ; and as I have resolved to die in their defence, 
rather than yield, I send to ask what he requireth at my 
hands.' " 

Exhausted with his own eloquence the king lay back, 
breathing heavily ; and Pottinger, all eagerness for the 
morrow's venture, made haste to be gone. 


But when he called on the Wazir next morning it was 
only to find that obstacles had arisen and the whole affair 
was postponed. The sortie of the preceding night, from 
which much was expected, had failed signally. More- 
over, there were reports afloat of an immense gun in 
active preparation : a gun whose bullets were to pierce 
the mud walls of Herat as though they were glass. At 
such a moment suggested mediation would seem a mere 
confession of weakness ; wherefore the Shah sent word 
that the going of Pottinger Sahib be delayed till the 
Afghans had at least struck one determined blow in their 
own defence. 

This they achieved, with questionable success, on the 
26th of January. But Asia has a genius for shirking 
the decisive issue, and not until the 7th of February 
did Pottinger obtain leave to depart. 

In the interval his heart had been rejoiced by the 
recrudescence of Allah Dad Khan, with all his treasures 
intact, and a tale of plausible adventures longer than 
his turban. As regards the truth of these Pottinger 
made no stringent inquiry. He was too thankful to 
recover his belongings and to secure the services of a man 
he could trust. Allah Dad Khan might be stupid and 
hot-headed ; but his experience of Sahibs had taught him 
that straight dealing was the sole way to gain and keep 
their favour. 

On the morning of the 8th, then, Eldred Pottinger 
left his belongings in charge of his new-found friend, 
and rode forth of the gate that is called Kutb-Chak, 
bearing not only " a Shah's message to a Shah," but also 
Yar Mahomed's diplomatic greeting to the Wazir. 
Word of an Afghan dignitary, coming to make terms, 
had sped on before ; so that the streets between the tents 
were thronged with a shouting, surging multitude, and 


the escort had need to lay about them vigorously in order 
to reach the Persian minister's tent. Here, to his 
delight, Pottinger gained leave to call on Colonel Stod- 
dart, who overwhelmed the bearded stranger with an 
effusive Asiatic greeting. 

Laughing heartily, the other answered in English ; and 
Colonel Stoddart stepped back in amaze 

6 f What ! Is it Pottinger the soul of the defence ? 
My fellow announced you as the Moojtehid of Herat ! 
Come in, man, come in. This is a pleasure indeed ! 
Coffee at once for the Sahib," he commanded, as they 
sat down and rid themselves of the crowd. 

Only the Englishman who has spent months alone 
among Orientals can conceive what it means merely to 
return an English handclasp, to hear an English voice. 
And these two were, in addition, fellow-soldiers, fellow- 
pawns on the great chess-board of Central Asia. 

Said Stoddart : "I am told we owe it mainly to you, 
under Providence, that the Heratis are giving our Exalted 
One more trouble than he bargained for. At the rate 
you are strengthening your defences the place will soon 
be impregnable. Keep them up to it, sir ; keep them up 
to it ! We need time to shake a chronically sleepy 
Government wide awake. Our news is beginning to dis- 
turb the official Burra Sahibs at last, and it's my belief 
that we shall soon have Sir John himself here as mediator. 
For a Persian victory means Russia dominant in Herat. 
Your people show no sign of climbing down? " 

"No. They are sick of fighting and not over flush of 
money ; but I am only the bearer of polite messages and 
don't expect to accomplish much. I have letters though. 
One for you " 

" Ah, Burnes ! I had been hoping for news. It 
seems the Bear has got her paw on Kabul now. But 


from all accounts Dost Mahomed is giving Vickovitch the 
cold shoulder and standing fast by Burnes. Sekunder 
the Great has his failings, and diffidence cannot be 
counted among them ; but he'll square the Afghan alliance, 
if the gods of Olympus give him a chance. Now for his 

letter, and you shall share the news " But steps and 

voices without betokened interruption. "Devil take 
these Asiatics ! " cried Stoddart, whose patience was 
short and curiosity keen. " As for you, my dear sir, 
resign yourself to leagues of long-winded, irrelevant dis- 
cussion ! " 

Pottinger had his fill of it before the day was out. 
Bidden first to the Wazir's tent they found him sur- 
rounded with the usual crpwd of friends and retainers : a 
thin, small man of mean aspect and bilious temper. But 
they were received with a fine show of graciousness, and 
the "most noble," after compliments, was asked of 
his message from the Prince Kamran to the King of 

" My message is from the Afghan king to the Persian 
king, and to none other," Pottinger answered, with his 
quiet directness of look and speech. " As regards the 
greeting to yourself from Yar Mahomed Khan, I should 
prefer greater privacy." 

It was accorded not with the best possible grace : and 
Yar Mahomed's proposal that the Shah return to Persia, 
whither he himself would follow, to give true proof of 
sonship, was dismissed with undignified contortions of 
disgust. Was there no limit to the arrogance of these 
Afghans? Was not Herat set down as a Persian 
province even upon the maps of Great Britain ? 

This last both officers denied ; and were favoured, 
straightway, with a detailed history of Persia for the 
last fifty years. Finally Burnes' map was called for, in 


proof of their fallacy ; and lo, Herat appeared within the 
Afghan border ! 

The volcanic little gentleman turned indignantly upon 

" Why, then, Colonel Stoddart Sahib, hath the British 
Government, while professing friendship with Iran, 1 never 
sent word to us of the insult upon the map? " 

Stoddart replied gravely that he had no instructions in 
this matter. He was not aware that his Government had 
ever received information of Herat having been annexed 
by Persia. He would refer the case to the Envoy at 

The undernote of irony was quite lost upon Haji 
Akasi, champion-in-chief of Persian almightiness : but at 
the preposterous word annexation, he writhed anew. 

"Bismillah! How should the Defender of the Faith 
annex that which hath been his own since the days of 
Nadir Shah ? Who careth for maps ? Herat remaineth 
a province of Iran. Therefore let Prince Kamran and 
his Wazir approach, with due humility, and kiss the feet 
of the Asylum of the Universe, who will permit no foreign 
Government, Russian, Turkish or British, to make dis- 
turbance between himself and his subjects. If the Burra 
Ldt Sahib hath another opinion, let him send a man to 
tell me his mind. Then will I also send a man to your 
young Queen, Buktoria, that the province of Ireland 
belongeth not to her ! " 

"There be some that might agree with you, Haji 
Sahib! " Pottinger remarked, smiling. "But when am 
I to deliver my message? " 

The small man sprang up in haste. 

"I go to prepare the way, that both may have 
audience. Then it shall be seen if the Asylum of the 

1 Persia. 


Universe will suffer dictation at the hands of Afghan or 

It was seen ; and the Asylum of the Universe did not 
suffer dictation. 

Very plainly clad, and enthroned upon a cheap Eng- 
lish chair, in the corner of a double-poled tent, his 
appearance scarcely sorted with the fulsome string of 
titles that were his. But his personal servants stood afar 
off with heads bowed above folded arms ; and the British 
officers must approach with all due ceremony, pausing 
and salaaming three times during the process. 

The interview lasted three-quarters of an hour. It 
began, in dignified fashion, with a plain statement of 
Mahomed Shah's just grievances against Kamran. It 
swelled to a bombastic outpouring, typical of his race, 
and culminated in the ultimatum that, unless his five 
proposals were complied with, he would not rest content 
till he had placed a garrison in the citadel of Herat. 

Since those five proposals included kissing the feet of 
the "Asylum," restoring prisoners and supplying troops 
for Persian wars, there remained no more to be said. The 
officers retreated backwards, saluting three times as 
before. Negotiations were at an end. 


THROUGHOUT that night and all next day hill and valley 
were lashed by the devastating breath of the Shamshir, 1 
the Boreas of Central Asia. Rain, hail and wind cul- 
minated in a knee-deep fall of snow that transfigured 
camp and fortress and tenderly veiled the battle-scarred 
face of the land. Followed a sharp frost, and, upon 
the morning of the 10th, Eldred Pottinger carried back 
to Herat the mortifying word of failure, that fell like 
a blight upon the whole expectant city. 

Delay had given time for hope to run high ; and Pot- 
tinger, speedily summoned to the citadel, did what he 
might to soften the blow. Hampered though he was by 
lack of political knowledge and authority, his two days 
in camp had not been altogether vain. He could, at 
least, bring word of a dispirited army, unpaid since leav- 
ing Persia ; of increasing scarcity, desertion and flagrant 
excesses that had converted every village into an enemy. 
Consoling news, that brought a gleam back into the 
royal eye and steadied the perturbation of the royal 

Followed a council of war, resulting in a unanimous 
vote for British protection on any terms ; and that night 
letters were written to Lord Auckland, also to Burnes, 
through whom the appeal must be sent. Thereafter 
Pottinger made out his own unvarnished official state- 
ment, accounting for his presence at Herat and his 
independent line of action. 

1 Cimiter. 


To Burnes he wrote informally of his experience as 
envoy, adding : " The city is very much stronger than it 
was at the commencement of the siege, and the Afghans 
are confident and in high spirits. They want but money. 
. . . For my own part, I have little doubt, from what I 
now know of both parties, that the taking of Herat 
by the present Persian army is little less than an 

Some misgiving of this complexion must have disturbed 
Mahomed Shah, after his interview with the superfluous 
young Englishman, whose presence in Herat seemed to 
have changed the whole complexion of affairs within the 
walls. The 68-pounder, also, that was to have broken 
up the walls like glass, had broken up, instead, its own 
ill-constructed carriage, and lay, like a dead elephant, 
cumbering the ground. 

Thus beset, the Most Exalted descended a step or two 
from his unassailable eminence. And behold a few days 
after his inflated ultimatum a Persian emissary at the 
gate of Herat : an emissary with peace upon his lips, and 
a private reminder that it behoved all true Moslems to 
make common cause against English aggression, under 
the Father of Victory and Defender of the Faith, who 
would, hereafter, enrich them with the plunder of India 
and Turkestan! 

High-sounding speech ; but the slipperiness of Persia is 
proverbial : and Yar Mahomed after due consultation 
sent answer that if the Shah-in-Shah spake truth, he 
could prove it by removing his army from the walls of 
Herat. As regards foreign mediation, the Afghans 
placed implicit confidence in Lieutenant Pottinger, and 
if the Shah would do the same by Colonel Stoddart, all 
might yet go well. Thus, in one breath, this most politic 
of men flattered the racial pride of his ally and shifted 


all blame for further fighting on to the shoulders 
of Persia, should she refuse to trust her English 
guest as Yar Mahomed, the unimpeachable, trusted his 
own ! 

And in less than a week that same trusted guest found 
him secretly corresponding with a Russian officer, known 
as Samson Khan ! The discovery led to a heated scene 
between these ill-assorted allies : nor was the matter 
smoothed over till the quietly persistent subaltern had 
compassed a written statement to the effect that no treaty 
could be entered into without the sanction of Great 

But for all his decisive bearing at such critical moments 
Pottinger was acutely alive to the difficulty and delicacy 
of his position. There were times of heart searching, 
when he doubted whether as an officer of a neutral 
Government he had any right to take an active part 
in the defence ; feared also lest his Afghan friends should 
misconstrue his zeal in their service and believe him to 
have been, from the first, a secret agent of the Indian 
Government. But, whatever the issue, to withhold 
practical help, so greatly needed, was not in the nature 
of the man. He could but meet each crisis as it arose, 
to the best of his power, and leave the event to God. 

And still, throughout February and March, emissaries 
came and went. And still, while the lips of the Most 
Exalted spoke peace, he did not cease from the strength- 
ening of trenches, or from carving cannon balls out of 
marble wrenched from sacred graves. On two sides the 
Persians pushed their approach closer, till investment 
was complete, and real pressure began to be felt. No 
provision had been made for a siege of months. Sheep 
and grain were already scarce. The water supply having 


been cut off, all that remained in cisterns and reservoirs 
had become indescribably foul. Actual scarcity there 
was not, since water could soon be reached by digging. 
The one serious lack, as Pottinger had said, was money : 
how serious, he did not discover till March was half over 
and the siege near four months old. 

The fashion of his discovery was Eastern to the core. 
A pressing invitation from the Wazir 's scribe, Mirza 
Ibrahim, resulted in a rigmarole of innuendo, in cautious 
curvettings and amblings round about the most delicate 
subject on earth, till Pottinger, losing patience, de- 
manded bluntly : "Is it that you need money, Mirza 
Sahib, and you wish to know if I can supply it? " 

But for his colour, the Mirza must have blushed at 
this naked presentment of his decorously draped request. 
Great was the penetration of the Sahib ! It could not 
be denied. There had been difficulties. Even strong 
pressure brought small result. How wring water from a 
dry dish-cloth? But the Sahib must understand, he, 
Mirza Ibrahim, spoke from his own grief of heart, with- 
out authority. The Wazir Sahib had, indeed, desired 
to speak. But the Englishman, being his guest, modesty 
forbade ! 

Pottinger could not repress a smile. If Yar Mahomed 
had taken modesty to wife the day of miracles was not yet 

"Still," said he, "if I am to assist the Wazir in this 
most delicate matter, he must needs overcome his 
modesty, so that I may be fully acquainted with his 
present difficulties and his future intentions." 

The Mirza bowed low and departed. But the delicate 
process of overcoming Afghan modesty took time. Even 
when invited to dinner, the Wazir could not bring him- 
self to broach the subject of money ; and each fresh oppor- 


t unity given found him increasingly coy. At last the 
Englishman fairly lost his temper. 

"This is the conduct of children, not of men," he 
remonstrated, on the Mirza's third invitation to dinner. 
"If the Wazir is really too modest to speak, let him 
write! " 

The ironic suggestion was solemnly accepted, and as 
solemnly carried out. By an interchange of formal notes 
in the third person, modesty was propitiated, and the 
way made clear for speech. 

To Yar Mahomed's ingenuous suggestion that his ally 
should lend him money on the security of the crown 
jewels, Pottinger replied: "My friend, I am no mer- 
chant ; and if I possessed money enough for such a 
transaction I would give it willingly, without talk of 
pawn or purchase. Why not arrange the matter with 
the Hindus, who could get you money from Kandahar? " 

But it appeared that the Hindus shirked the risk of 
dealing with crown jewels ; or, more probably, the risk 
of dealing with Yar Mahomed Khan, and Pottinger 
agreed to conduct the affair himself on two conditions : 
no foreign intercourse without the consent of Lord Auck- 
land ; no prisoners to be sold, but detained for ransom 
or exchange. Promises being cheap, were readily given ; 
and that night three letters were dispatched to Alexander 
Burnes, without whose sanction Pottinger would do 

His own letter contained an informal account of the 
whole transaction and of his view on the general 

"In my former letter," he wrote, "though I men- 
tioned money, I had no idea of the destitution to which 
they are apparently reduced, and this knowledge has 
changed my confidence in their success. The result now 


depends upon the answer you send to this application. 
... I shall, much as I dislike the undertaking, endeavour 
to pawn the jewels, and trust I shall be able to raise 
sufficient to last till your reply comes. . . . Thus, having 
given you a statement of affairs, I beg to say a word 
of myself. Without any authority, I am acting the part 
of British agent here, thereby laying myself open to 
the displeasure of Government, not only for meddling 
in what does not concern me, but also for neglecting the 
duties on which I was sent to these countries. Except 
for the private communications of Colonel Stoddart and 
Mr. Leech, I am totally ignorant of the wishes of Govern- 
ment; but I have done and shall continue to do my 
utmost to preserve our interests here, taking care to 
commit no act of hostility which can be construed into 
involving the British Government. You wrote to me in 
October that you were authorized to send one of your 
assistants to this place. I shall consider it a personal 
favour if you do so, and thus relieve me from the anxiety 
of my present situation ; and if not, that you will authorize 
me to act here on the part of Government till orders 
may arrive." 

Such occasional comments, in demi-official letters, and 
certain extracts from the lost journal are all that remain 
to throw any light on Pottinger's personal thoughts and 
feelings throughout those long months of hardship, 
anxiety and strain. But, even from these, it is evident 
that no idea of gleaning honours or advancement from 
the great adventure visited his mind. A mild official 
"wigging," allowing for pressure of circumstances, was 
far nearer to his expectations : such being the common 
lot of unauthorized ones who have the courage to act 
on their own responsibility at a crisis. No doubt he 
hoped, secretly, that if Burnes could relieve him, he 


might yet gain a fresh grant of leave to complete his 
frustrated journey of exploration. 

In the meantime it was his without authority, with- 
out political knowledge, and with small experience of 
actual fighting to defend and preserve the independ- 
ence of Herat to the best of his power. In this sole 
purpose he and Yar Mahomed were at one ; and, as the 
precious month of seed-time drew to an end, it became 
clearer than ever that both armies were heartily sick of 
the struggle. But upon certain points neither monarch 
would give way. Said Yar Mahomed after a last vain 
colloquy with the Persian general : " All things are 
written in the book of Fate. But one thing is certain. 
So long as the Shah-in-Shah demands acknowledgment of 
sovereignty, there can be no hope of peace." 

Yet upon that night of early April the British Ambas- 
sador from Tehran had halted but four days' march from 
the city, and with him came his assistant secretary, 
Major D'Arcy Todd, a Bengal gunner, eager for political 
distinction, whose name was destined to be linked with 
that of Herat almost as closely, though far less happily, 
than Pottinger's own. The move, prophesied by Stod- 
dart, had been precipitated by a certain letter from 
Leech at Kandahar, and McNeill lately authorized by 
Lord Palmerston to denounce Persia's enterprise as an 
unfriendly act had hurried down to the camp, without 
awaiting official instructions. For at that time a severe 
epidemic of Russian scare prevailed, not only in Central 
Asia, but in Westminster and Calcutta. Rightly or 
wrongly, it was believed that the fall of Herat would be 
an inevitable prelude to further Russian aggression, 
further intrigue, under cover of supporting the claims of 
Mahomed Shah. 


Viewed in the truer perspective distance gives, later 
historians have denounced these fears as chimerical, and 
those who entertained them as alarmists. It is easy to 
pass such verdicts when the cards are on the table and 
the game played out : easy to censure McNeill's over- 
hastiness, Burnes' excitable letters the outcome of a 
temperament prone to exaggeration, more especially when 
it served to enhance the importance of his own mission. 
But it is a question whether England has not suffered 
worse things from her proverbial blindness to the 
shadows cast by coming events, than from the voice of 
the "alarmist," who has occasionally been known to 
speak truth. Certainly, at the time making due allow- 
ance for bias of temperament it seemed evident that the 
Asylum of the Universe and the Father of Victory was 
little better than a vassal of the Bear. Hence the obses- 
sion that Persian success spelt imminent peril for India. 

Folly or no, England had clearly everything to gain 
by preserving the independence of Herat, and of her 
rival's active interest in its downfall there were proofs 
in plenty : this among others, that while England, in 
the person of McNeill, sped southward, Russia, in the 
person of Count Simonich, followed after. And with 
the appearance of both ambassadors in camp, the siege 
of Herat changed its character. From a squabble of 
small significance, between two Asiatic chiefs, it deve- 
loped into the opening moves of that great international 
game of chess, which has gone on at intervals for near 
a hundred years. Whether it is even yet played out 
remains for future historians to say. 

\ 1V 

%< PROPHESY now to us, O Pottinger Sahib, what will 
be the outcome of this new happening? And if the 
Russian Elchee be following after, as is said, which will 
win the ear of the Shah-in-Shah ? " 

Yar Mahomed brought down a heavy hand upon the 
shoulder of his friend, and those about him chorused his 
request. " Tell us, Sahib, what is the thought of your 
heart? " 

But Pottinger shook his head. "I am no prophet," 
said he. " But this I know for certain. McNeill Sahib 
will exert all his power to preserve the independence of 

He spoke his thought honestly, as of habit, yet not 
his whole thought. Assuredly McNeill would do all in 
hie power to avert what seemed in the fevered anxiety 
of the moment almost a national calamity. But since 
his arrival, two weeks ago, Pottinger had begun to doubt 
the extent of that power. 

True he had little but guesswork to go upon. His 
attempts to communicate with Colonel Stoddart since 
their meeting had failed time after time, and the appeal 
to Burnes seemed like to prove barren of result. It had 
been crossed on the road by a letter from Kabul giving 
no very promising account of the progress toward an 
alliance whereon Burnes had set his heart. The obstacle, 
strangely enough, was not Dost Mahomed Khan, but 
the Calcutta Government, whose attitude was no less dis- 
heartening to its own envoy than to the Afghan chief. 

H 2 99 


None the less, at the time of writing neither the Amir 
nor Burnes had quite given up hope. For the rest, he 
lauded, in high terms, Pottinger's share in the defence 
of Herat, and felt justified in giving him freer scope for 
action by asking Government to appoint him Assistant 
to the Kabul Mission. Frontier political service was the 
craze of the moment, and it is difficult to name a soldier 
of that period who would not have leapt at such an offer. 
But Eldred Pottinger, with his head full of schemes for 
further exploration, begged to decline the honour. All 
he asked was the support of Government authority for the 
time being. 

As for the Wazir and the King, disappointment at 
Burnes 's silence was tempered by the good news of 
McNeilPs arrival in camp. But it seemed there were 
complications. Colonel Stoddart with the injudicious 
freedom of speech that more than once wrought harm 
to himself and others had made no secret of the reason 
for his senior's sudden move, and so put the Shah on his 
guard. Not until the 13th had he granted audience to 
the White Queen's minister, who had thereupon de- 
nounced the attack on Herat as a violation of the Perso- 
British treaty, and refused to accept the Shah's denial. 
Yet upon the 16th, after a second interview, the Persian 
soldiers had proclaimed from their trenches that the 
British minister, as mediator, would shortly enter Herat. 

It was now afternoon of the 18th, a day of unusual 
activity without the walls. Mediation might be in the 
air, but until peace was established Herat should have no 
rest. Since early morning the Persian guns had been 
battering the ramparts behind the great mosque with 
disastrous result. Northward and eastward practicable 
breaches yawned, and that in the western wall had grown 


wider than ever. Yet were the Afghans nothing daunted. 
Their true defences, said they, were the ramparts and 
fausse braies. Of these there were two upper and lower ; 
deep, half-covered trenches cut out of the thickness of 
the ramparts, but reached from within by a hole through 
the city wall; and Persian attempts to establish them- 
selves in these trenches had so far been vain. 

It was at the main danger-point, near the latest breach, 
that Yar Mahomed and Pottinger sat, with a group of 
Afghans, discussing the fresh possibilities involved in the 
Russian minister's approach. A Persian emissary had 
just confirmed the report, heightening its effect by in- 
flated comparison between Russia, the all-powerful con- 
queror of Europe, and that arrogant slip of an island (he 
indicated its length with one finger) full of rich bunnias l 
in place of a soldier-log, so that only by paying much 
money to other governments could any izzat be main- 

Pottinger kept silence till the worthy's volubility ran 
him out of breath, then he remarked quietly: "If Eng- 
land be so insignificant a country, how strange that men 
should thus exert themselves to decry her power I 
Stranger still that only a few years ago the mere dis- 
approval of England sufficed to check the march of a 
Russian army on Tehran, and to preserve the King of 
Kings from becoming a vassal of that empire." 

The inflated one, being destitute of rejoinder, made 
haste to be gone, leaving food for lively argument behind 
him. With the two rivals-in-chief at their very gates the 
question of supremacy touched the Afghans nearly indeed, 
and Yar Mahomed, applauding Pottinger 's assurance as 
regards McNeill, added shrewdly : "In this quarrel be- 
tween such mighty states, no doubt we must in time be 
1 Merchants. 


trampled to death ; and the English being more upright, 
we do well to abide by them. Do I not speak truth, 
my friend? " 

It amused him to try to lure the British subaltern 
into a boasting match such as Afghans delight in. But 
Pottinger would not be so enticed. 

" In my opinion, naturally ! " he answered, smiling. 
" Every one thinks best of his own country. But king- 
doms, like men, must be judged by actions and their 

" Well spoken, Sahib," cried an Afghan officer with 
whom Pottinger had become friendly. " As for results 
let only the English lead the Afghans against all Asia 
then it shall be seen! But until you frighten us your 
Vakils and Elchees can do nothing. March fifteen regi- 
ments to Kelat ; then command the Sirdars as you please I " 

Pottinger laughed. 

"But England has no wish to invade your country or 
to command your army," said he in all good faith, little 
guessing how soon she was to give his statement the lie. 
"Besides " 

Shouts from below and a renewed outburst of musketry 
put an end to talk. With answering shouts the Afghans 
sprang up, flourishing their weapons and challenging the 
Persians to come on, in defiance of the Wazir's repeated 
commands to take shelter from the storm of bullets that 
here and there achieved deadly work. 

Pottinger had sprung up also on to the banquette 
where they sat, and, keeping within shelter, had a glimps 
through the parapet of a lively encounter going on below. 
For many minutes he stood there, absorbed in the 
struggle, quite unaware that his breast rested against a 
loophole loosely blocked by a brick. Those on the ban- 
quette behind him were regaling themselves with tea and 


rough jokes at the expense of a "valiant one " whose 
blade had been shattered by a bullet, and who now 
clamoured for a sword to brandish in the face of those 
.fire-spitting devils under the walls. Pottinger's friend, 
Been Mahomed, called out to him to sit down and share 
the fun. But the scene below fascinated him, and he 
paid no heed until his friend laughingly forced him to 
his knees by tugging at his Afghan cloak. 

He had not been seated three minutes when a bullet 
crashed through the very loophole he had leaned against, 
shattering the brick and knocking down the favourite 
eunuch of Yar Mahomed Khan. The man was carried 
out mortally hurt, and for some moments the Wazir 
looked after him, moved, it is to be hoped, if only for 
so short a space. Then turning to the Englishman, he 
smiled grimly. 

" Great is your kismet, O Friend of Princes ! But that 
the hand of God wrought through the hand of Deen 
Mahomed, yourself had been carried out there." 

Potfcinger nodded gravely. " I am sorry for your loss," 
said he. " A stout-hearted fellow and a faithful servant." 

66 True. Yet more easily to be spared than the ally 
and defender of Herat. May God prolong his days ! 
Small wonder that we have withstood the whole army of 
Iran, seeing that one so favoured of Allah fights within 
our walls." 

Pottinger accepted the compliment at its worth, know- 
ing well how the superstitious Afghan venerates him of 
good kismet, be he scoundrel or saint. At that moment 
a flying messenger broke up the warlike tea-party, and 
the two, who were never long away from the post of 
danger, hurried to the breach. 

Next day brought the first welcome event in the deadly 


monotony of the siege, an event joyfully hailed by all as 
the beginning of the end. In the morning came Major 
Todd, in quest of Kamran's formal consent to British 
mediation the first European soldier in uniform to enter 
Herat. Streets and roof-tops were thronged with starve- 
ling citizens, childishly agape at the tight coat and over- 
alls, cocked hat and epaulettes of that strangest of all 
strange beasts the Feringhi in his habit as he lived. 
Courteous and pleasant-spoken, he found favour up at the 
citadel; found also that the character of his unfamiliar- 
looking brother officer had wrought unquestioning faith 
in British prestige. 

Mediation being agreed upon, he rode back in high 
spirits to the Persian camp ; and that same evening, after 
the dispersal of Yar Mahomed's assembly, came a mes- 
senger reporting that the British minister himself sought 
entrance to the city. The scattered assembly was hastily 
called together again, while Yar Mahomed, with Pot- 
tinger and a fitting deputation, hurried to the south- 
west angle to welcome Sir John McNeill. A man of no 
little talent, with twenty years' experience of Persian 
politics, he was strongly of opinion that, in the interest 
of England and Afghanistan, Mahomed Shah must by 
all means be kept out of Herat. Naturally, therefore, 
he was looked upon as a "Daniel come to judgment." 

Half the night was spent in animated discussion; and 
not until the small hours did the two Englishmen repair 
to Pottinger's quarters for a brief spell of sleep. Already 
McNeill had perceived that Stoddart spoke truth when 
he said : " I am told Pottinger is in high esteem among 
the Afghans " ; had seen, also, that but for this fate- 
sent subaltern of Eastern aspect Herat would never have 
held out till now. For all his virility, the Afghan is only 
formidable when attacking. His rough-and-ready valour 


evaporates under the strain of fighting against odds ; for 
which reason the men of Herat probably owed less to 
Pottinger's military skill than to his stubborn fortitude, 
energy and power of resistance. 

Sir John McNeill, considering these things, emphasized 
his approbation by the practical conclusion that he could 
not do better, in the interests of the city, than strengthen 
the hand of its gallant defender by appointing him British 
agent, with full authority to act on behalf of Govern- 

So much for the " official wigging," and for dreams of 
further exploration ! They had reached the Hakeem's 
house by now, and for some minutes Pottinger stood 

"Well? What is the obstacle?" Sir John asked 
kindly. "You accept, of course?" 

But the younger man, flushing awkwardly, shook his head. 
" Believe me, your Excellency, I fully appreciate the com- 
pliment; and I am more than ready to go on doing my 
utmost in the capacity of a friendly British subject. But 
I have no wish to entangle myself with Central Asian 
politics, and I have already refused the same offer from 
Captain Burnes. Government approval and authority to 
act, for the time being, are all I need." 

Sir John McNeill must have considered with some 
puzzlement this unusual specimen of a British officer. 

"But you have plenty of capacity, my dear sir," he 
urged, still more kindly. " And this is not the sort of 
appointment that promising young men refuse out of 
hand. Think it over, and let me know your mind before 
I leave in the morning." 

But whatever Pottinger's inmost reasons may have 
been, his mind had long since been made up ; and he was 
at all times a man difficult to bend from his decision. 


By way of " thinking it over " he laid him down and 
slept soundly till after six, when he awoke to find his 
guest already up and busy writing. 

At seven o'clock word was sent to Yar Mahomed that 
the Ambassador was ready to receive him. He came with 
all speed, and when Pottinger met him at the door he 
was still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. 

" Is it custom for your ministers not to sleep at 
night? " he asked, laughing, yet genuinely amazed. 
" Scarcely had I closed my eyes when I am told * His 
Excellency awaits you ' I Who can wonder that your 
undertakings prosper and your ikbal * is great when men 
of such high rank, far from the eye of their sovereign, 
work harder than any Afghan soldier, even in presence 
of the Shah ! " 

Thus Yar Mahomed arch-villain ; yet, in McNeill's 
opinion, the "ablest man of his race and age." And, 
on this occasion at least, he spoke truth. It is this very 
quality of thoroughness, of steadfast duty-doing for 
duty's sake, that has done more than force of arms or 
legislation to advance the lines of British dominion in 
the East, and to keep it paramount, often against over- 
powering odds. 

Before McNeill went up to the citadel Pottinger 
repeated his decision of the previous night; and the 
older man, thoughtfully regarding him, said no more. 
That afternoon the Ambassador left Herat, fortified by 
Shah Kamran's assurance that any reasonable terms 
tendered through the British minister would be accepted 
by his Government ; and not long after his departure a 
sealed note addressed in his hand was delivered at Pot- 
tinger 's quarters. Half puzzled, half anxious, he broke 
the seal and took in the contents at a glance. 
1 Prestige. 


"In spite of your repeated refusal," wrote McNeill, 
" 1 could not but do what seemed most urgently advisable 
before leaving Herat. I therefore told Shah Kamran 
and his minister that you are now the accredited agent 
of the Government, and as such of H.M. the Queen. 
Whether you are averse to the advancement or merely 
diffident of your own capabilities, believe me, Mr. Pot- 
tinger, it is for the good of the service that you should 
accept the situation." 

In the face of such plain speaking Pottinger could not 
but accede, and that cheerfully. For a man may be no 
self-seeker, and yet be keenly susceptible to appreciation 
when he has done his utmost in difficult conditions. Nor 
was this the last tune that he was to be pushed, in his 
own despite, to the forefront of political service. If ever 
man had greatness thrust upon him, that man was Eldred 
Pottinger, the defender of Herat. So little, in one sense, 
is even the strongest master of his fate. 

At the moment he looked on the appointment as a 
temporary measure, in case of emergencies, since the 
day's events convinced him and his Afghan friends that, 
at long last, the siege was nearing an end. So also 
thought Sir John McNeill, in spite of an approaching 
Russian ambassador and his own exhaustive experience of 
Persia's political coquettishness to use no harder word. 

But it was not so. The full brunt of the struggle had 
yet to be endured. On the morning of Sir John's visit 
to Herat, Count Simonich entered the Persian camp. He 
was not the man to let grass grow under his feet, and 
two days later Major Todd brought word that the Asylum 
of the Universe had peremptorily refused the proposed 
agreement, and had repeated his ultimatum of two 
months earlier : " Either the whole people of Herat shall 


make their submission, or I will take the fortress by force 
of arms." 

It was Pottinger's uncongenial task, as agent, to 
explain how Sir John himself had been deceived ; and the 
Afghan king, though bitterly disappointed, declared that 
he had expected no less from the most faithless nation on 
earth. Such was the disgust of Yar Mahomed and the 
chiefs that it was debated whether any answer at all 
should be sent to the hostile insult of Mahomed Shah. 
But consideration for the British minister prevailed. 

The reply was written by Yar Mahomed and showed 
the man at his best. " Be not distressed. Now that we 
have suffered so many injuries and have been kept back 
from our tillage and cultivation . . . what have we to 
care for? If the Persians will not listen to your words, 
we must answer with our bodies, and leave the result to 

IT was on the 23rd of April that D'Arcy Todd rode 
into Herat with the message that incidentally announced 
Russia triumphant. It was upon the 26th that " Sekun- 
dur ?; Burnes rode away from Kabul, disheartened and 
disgusted with the policy that had wrecked his mission 
and dissolved his private visions of knighthood into thin 
air. Worse than all, his departure also implied Russia 
triumphant. Even before leaving he had suffered the 
supreme mortification of seeing Russian promises scat- 
tered abroad like seed at harvest time, and Russia's 
supposed agent publicly paraded through Kabul City. 

No presentment of the Afghan drama would be com- 
plete without a word of this significant prologue played 
out on the scene of ultimate disaster by Alexander Burnes 
and Dost Mahomed Khan, known among his people as 
the Amir-i-Kabir. 1 Faulty men both, in many respects; 
but in this case shamelessly traduced, for the benefit of 
a Government graceless enough to evade responsibility 
by blackening their characters. 

It is not to be denied that Burnes used commerce as 
a cloak for political diplomacy ; that he was sanguine and 
credulous ; a man of talent and ready wit, rather than 
of character and judgment; quick to catch the note of 
alarm that rang out from John Company's offices in 
Leadenhall Street and echoed through the wide spaces 
of Central Asia. But he believed in D5st Mahomed 
Khan, and proclaimed that faith from the first, in no 
uncertain terms. 

Great Amir. 


As for the Amir, whose supremacy and friendliness 
were India's best asset, he was no whit less eager for the 
alliance. All he asked was the common give and take of 
a fair bargain. Witness the fluent pen of Burnes 

"Dost Mahomed Khan has fallen in with all our 
views . . . has cut asunder his connection with 
Russia and Persia and refused to receive the ambas- 
sador from the Shah, now at Kandahar. His 
brothers in that city have, however, caressed the 
Persian Elchee all the more for this, and I have sent 
them such a Junius as I believe will astonish them." 

This letter was never published; and the following- 
extract from an account written to Macnaghten, a few 
weeks later, was also suppressed, when the whole garbled 
correspondence was utilized as a just pretext for o 
notoriously unjust war. 

" The present position of the British Government 
at this capital appears to me a most gratifying proof 
of the estimation in which it is held by the Afghan 
nation. Russia has come forward with offers which 
are certainly substantial. Persia has been lavish in 
her promises ; Bokhara and other states have not 
been backward. Yet in all that has passed ... the 
Chief of Kabul declares that he prefers the sympathy 
and friendly offices of the British to all these offers, 
however alluring they may seem, from Persia or the 
emperor which certainly places his good sense in 
a light more than prominent, and in my humble 
judgment proves that, by an earlier attention to 
these countries, we might have escaped the whole of 
these intrigues and held, long since, a stable influence 
in Kabul." 


Given these premisses, the result seemed inevitable as 
a proposition of Euclid. But, while Euclid's problems 
depend on unvarying lines and angles, those of national 
politics hinge upon that eternally unknown quantity 
the human equation. A Governor-General "cold, 
cautious and well-meaning, but infirm of purpose " ; a 
triad of secretaries overbold, ambitious and scared out 
of their political wits by the presence of agents, other 
than British, within the sacred borders of Afghanistan ; 
an Eminent Authority from Leadenhall Street breathing 
out wars and alarms ; a Russian Ambassador paying the 
troops before Herat ; and lo ! the lines broken up, the 
angles distorted, the inevitable proposition gone utterly 
to pieces ; its scattered fragments only to be cemented 
again by blood and tears. 

Whose the initiative and whose the blame it were diffi- 
cult, and perhaps ill-judged, to say. There were many 
ready enough to father that uncalled-for army of the 
Indus while victory was its portion : none readier than 
the aforesaid Government secretaries, able and zealous 
men, all ; though, at that time, more zealous for the 
accomplishment of their own ambitions than for their 
country's prestige in respect of righteous dealing toward 
neighbouring states. Of these, William Macnaghten, 
secretary-in-chief, was doomed to overleap himself and 
fall on the other side. But in that spring of '39 his 
star was nearing its zenith. Gifted, scholarly and dis- 
tinguished, a member of the Simla Cabinet, he enjoyed 
the private ear of a Governor-General separated from 
his Supreme Council, and himself afloat upon a sea of 
political conjecture with no sound general principle for 
rudder. And in those days there were adverse winds 
abroad in the lands between Peshawur and Tehran. 

Briefly, the position was this. India needed a strong, 


reliable buffer between her and the supposed invader. 
Dost Mahomed, powerful as he was, reigned over a house 
divided against itself. Two refractory brothers ruled at 
Kandahar. A third, Sultan Mahomed described by 
him as a bitter enemy and treacherous friend had ruled 
at Peshawur till it was cunningly wrested from the 
Afghans by their formidable Sikh neighbour, the Lion 
of Lahore. 

It was the restoration of Peshawur Kohinoor among 
Afghan cities, and winter resort of former Amirs that 
Dost Mahomed craved in return for his own practical 
proofs of friendship. But Burnes had " no power to 
treat of matters political," and substantial assistance was 
not in the bond. It was his to demand that the Amir 
should give up all equivocal intercourse with Persia, 
Russia and Turkestan; all hope of regaining Peshawur 
from the Sikhs; and to proffer in return assurances of 
Viceregal sympathy, empty and brittle as a blown egg- 
shell. For many months Dost Mahomed had looked 
anxiously for the coming of his good friend " Sekundur 
Burnes," secure in the will and power of the English to 
lighten the embarrassments that were thickening about 
him. And here was the result ! 

Even the first day of meeting struck a prophetic note 
of disappointment. British liberality had become a tradi- 
tion in the land, and Dost Mahomed like any other 
Asiatic ruler was childishly eager for those ceremonial 
gifts, whereby he might estimate the friendship of the 
giver. Jewelled swords, guns, robes of honour and costly 
embroideries these would surely be his in token of 
friendly alliance between chief and chief. But Burnes 
had been warned against extravagance, and bidden to 
choose presents that " should exhibit the superiority of 
British manufacturers." Judge, then, the feelings of his 


host, when these were solemnly brought forth. For 
himself a telescope and a pistol ; for his zenana, pins and 
needles, scissors and a few trumpery toys. It is said that 
"Dost Mahomed exclaimed with a ' Pish! ' as he threw 
them down before him : ' Behold ! I have feasted this 
Feringhi to the extent of six thousand rupees, and have 
now a lot of pins and needles and sundry pretty toys to 
show for my folly! ' And again: "The ridicule and 
disgust excited in the Amir's family did more to lessen 
the agent's ascendancy at Kabul than can easily be 
imagined by those unacquainted with the potency of back- 
stairs influence at an Eastern court." 

In the Afghan's opinion such initial niggardliness 
boded no good for that which was to come. Nor was 
he mistaken ; as he learnt to his cost. 

But the good-will and pliability of Burnes being already 
known to the Amir, no doubt he hoped even in the face 
of disappointment to find the agent an apt instrument 
for carrying out his scheme of a consolidated Afghan- 
istan, strengthened by a friendly alliance with Great 
Britain. And the notable contrast between the two men 
went far to justify such a hope. 

The Dost handsome, manly, with the muscular build 
and aquiline features of the finer Afghan types looked 
every inch of him the iron-handed ruler and shrewd, 
vigorous individual that he was. Burnes, on the other 
hand, lacked presence, dignity and reserve ; qualities 
peculiarly needful to him who would command the respect 
of an Eastern chief. His singularly round eyes had an 
air of furtive, restless intelligence, devoid of real penetra- 
tion or power ; nor were they notably redeemed by the 
long, drooping nose, or the pleasure-loving mouth and 
chin, the former adorned with a dapper moustache sharply 
twisted at the tips. 

Travelled, accomplished, and a lively talker, he might 


well have attained popularity among the Afghans, but 
that his very eagerness for that vain and doubtful good 
led him into extremes neither admirable nor wise. Like 
many another Anglo-Indian of his day, he interpreted 
something too literally the old traveller's saw : In Rome, 
do as Rome does. When adopting Mahomedan dress, 
he also adopted Mahomedan habits of life ; not excepting 
the harem system. Yet was he still so far from true 
understanding of the Eastern temperament, that he 
thought to ingratiate himself by making light not merely 
of religious differences, but of religion in general ; and 
believed himself successful because, out of courtesy", 
the Afghans laughed at his jokes : a mistake for which 
he paid heavily in the stormy days that were to conre. 
Even at this early date his lack of dignity and of diplo- 
matic caution seems to have alienated the respect of the 
chiefs ; while yet they hoped that his good-will might 
serve their present purpose and cement the desired alliance 
with Great Britain. 

It soon transpired, however, that Burnes, the com- 
mercial agent, could neither commit himself nor com- 
promise a just and generous Government ; but he could 
and did write for further instructions, enlarging on the 
friendliness of the Amir. The former were unavoidably 
long on the road ; and, in the meantime, came warlike 
news from Herat with rumours of defection at Kandahar, 
sufficiently alarming to Burnes' excitable temper. 

"The chiefs of Kandahar,'' he wrote to a friend, 
"had gone over to Persia. 7 have detached them 
and offered them British protection and cash if they 
would recede and if Persia attacked them. I have 
no authority to do so. But am I to stand by and 
-see us ruined at Kandahar, when the Government tell 


me an attack on Herat would be most unpalatable? 
Herat has been besieged fifty days ; and if the Per- 
sians move on Kandahar I am off there with the 
Amir and his forces, and mean to pay the piper 
myself ! ... I am on stirring ground : and am up 
to it in health and all that. I was never more braced 
in my life." 

He was in high spirits at this time; undismayed even 
by the appearance of a Russian agent in December. 1 
And in truth the man's reception only set Dost 
Mahomed's sincerity in a clearer light. 

Burnes' own unofficial account of the event is spirited 
enough, and very characteristic. 

" We are in a mess here! Herat is besieged and 
may fall ; and the Emperor of Russia has sent an 
envoy to Kabul offering Dost Mahomed money to 
fight Ran jit Singh ! ! ! ! ! I could not believe my 
ears or eyes ; but Captain Vickovitch arrived with 
a blazing imperial letter three feet long, and came 
immediately to pay his respects to myself. I, of 
course, received him and asked him to dinner. This 
is not the best of it. The Amir came over to me, 
sharp, and offered to do as I liked ; kick him out 
or anything. And since he was so friendly to us, I 
said, give me the letters the agent has brought, all 
of which he surrendered sharp ; and I sent an express 
to my Lord A., with a confidential letter to him- 

1 Whether the man was in truth an accredited Government 
agent, Russia's tyrannic methods make it hard to say. Certain it 
is that he was sent by the Government of Orenherg. Yet when, 
in '39, England remonstrated, Russia knew nothing at all of one 
Vickovitch, his works and ways. But Vickovitch knew Russia. 
Perceiving that he was to be the scapegoat, he wrote a few bitter 
lines, burnt all his other papers, and blew out his brains. 

I 2 


self . . . telling him that after this I knew not 
what might happen. And it was now a neck and 
neck race between Russia and us. If his Lordship 
would hear reason, he would forthwith send agents 
to Bokhara, Herat, Kandahar, and not forgetting 
Sindh. How this pill will go down I know not : but 
I know my duty too well to be silent." 

Duty or no, Burnes had a constitutional weakness for 
his own voice and the airing of his own views. Unlike 
Pottinger, he did shine on paper ; though, in all he writes, 
allowance must be made for a tendency to over-colour 
plain facts and exalt the importance of any post he 
chanced to fill. His letters have the individual note of 
the cheerful egoist ; letters in which the man's flippancy, 
vanity and personal ambition peep out with engaging 
naivetS between the lines. 

But his belief in India's imminent danger, however 
exaggerated, was at least sincere. And while he awaited 
the result of his representations in favour of Dost 
Mahomed, conferences multiplied at the Bala Hissar ; 
blown eggshells being cheap, and the Amir, as yet, being 
unaware of their emptiness. 

January brought letters from Olympus, less discourag- 
ing in tone, 1 and, on the strength of these, the urgent 
Peshawur question was discussed in all its bearings. 
"Better, surely," urged Burnes, the persuasive, "waive 
your own claims to Peshawur and remain content with 
such restitution as can be made by an amicable arrange- 
ment between Sultan Mahomed and the Sikh Maharaj." 

Whereto the Amir made answer, more in sorrow than 
in anger : " Of a truth, Ranjit Singh, having taken 

1 In the published Blue Book an attempt was made to conceal 
the fact of these having been received, that Burnes might appear to 
have acted without authority. 


Peshawur, may bestow it on whom he will. If on Sultan 
Mahomed brother in blood, though not in deed mine 
own city would not be safe for a day. Such form of help, 
given by the Indian Government, is but paving the way 
to my ruin. How, then, shall I be grateful for your 
Lat-Sahib's interference, or make promise of services in 
return ? Even now this most brotherly of brothers hath 
sent an agent to the ex-king (Shah Shujah) to seduce 
the Kandahar chiefs from their allegiance and help that 
other to drive me from my throne. What security have 
I, through his Lordship's good- will, against repetition 
of such treachery? Should I not find, when too late, 
that he had helped me to place a snake in my bosom ? " 

Questions hard to answer with honesty ; and the Amir, 
mollified by Burnes' evident sympathy, added feelingly : 
" See, my friend, I have unbosomed my difficulties to 
you, without suppression. I shall ever remember the 
good intentions of your Government towards me, and 
ever regret that interests of my country did not permit 
acceptance of proposals tendered in friendship, but which 
seemed to me, and my advisers, only opening the door 
to my ruin. If your Government will look into this 
matter, they will see that no other policy can I safely 
pursue. As for the ex-king, he is powerless without help 
from your Government, which I am confident he will never 

Alas, for confidence, so soon to be shattered ! And 
again Burnes could do no more than report the confer- 
ence at full length, while recording his own opinion that 
the Amir " is simply pursuing the worldly maxim of 
securing himself from injury " ; that " his arguments seem 
deserving of every consideration ; the more so when an 
avowed partisan of Sultan Mahomed " (the Nawab 
Jubbar Khan) " does not deny their justice " ; and, 


finally, that "his interests are bound up in an alliance 
with the British Government, which he will never desert 
as long as there is a chance of securing it." 

Shameful to remember that neither these, nor any 
other letters favourable to the Amir, were published as 
they stood till twenty years later, when Dost Mahomed 
had returned, long since, to the seat of power, and all 
was as it had been, save that Burnes, and a hundred 
better men, had paid the price of a disastrous policy, 
and the bones of a massacred army lay whitening in every 
pass between Kabul and Peshawur. Shameful to realize 
that, through deliberate mutilation of these dispatches, 
the characters of Burnes and of Dost Mahomed were so 
effectually lied away, that both appear to have done what 
they ought not to have done and the reverse. " Official 
documents," it has been truly said, "are the sheet- 
anchors of historians. ... If these are tampered with 
the grave of truth is dug : and there is seldom a 
resurrection." Or else as in this case it comes too 

But in January 1839 Burnes still pleaded, Dost 
Mahomed still hoped against hope. 

Not for much longer : February brought the end in 
sight. First, discouragement for Burnes, in the shape 
of a letter from Macnaghten, that ran to twenty-four 
paragraphs, whereof twenty-one were suppressed. It was 
"with great pain," wrote Macnaghten, that his Lord- 
ship approached the subject of those "entirely unauthor- 
ized " promises held out to the chiefs of Kandahar. His 
Lordship was compelled "entirely to disapprove of 
them." He only refrained from direct disavowal there- 

1 It is but fair to record Lord Auckland's ultimate admission 
that the best authorities at home roundly asserted the wisdom of 
the measures he had so severely condemned, 


of lest it weaken the influence of the already paralyzed 
Burnes. But, should matters remain uncertain, and the 
chiefs look to fulfilment of the vain hopes held out to 
them, it would be the plain duty of Burnes to admit that 
he had " exceeded his instructions." In any case he was 
enjoined, for the future, to conform punctually to orders 
issued for his guidance. If he had been hampered 
formerly, behold him now effectually chained to a policy 
he had good reason to disapprove. 

In justice to Lord Auckland who depended entirely 
on others for information it should be remembered that 
the dispatches of Burnes necessarily passed through the 
hands of Captain Wade, British agent in the Punjab > 
and as hot a partisan of Shah Shu j ah as Burnes of Dost 
Mahomed Khan. Thus the Kabul letters, before reach- 
ing Simla, were often modified or invalidated by plausible 
arguments and bold assertions, which Burnes had no 
chance to see or refute. Wade urged, before all things, 
the importance of conciliating Ranjit Singh, both in 
respect of Peshawur and of Afghan sovereignty. It was 
in this connection that he first actively pressed the legiti- 
mate claim of Shah Shujah, whose elevation to the throne 
would be in the nature of fulfilling a compact already 
made, and who would demand no new concessions from 
the Sikhs. In fine, it was a question of expediency 
against principle : and who that knows the history of 
mankind in general could doubt the result? 

The suggestion arrived at the psychological moment. 
The Home Government had already echoed McNeill's 
alarms. Burnes himself had exaggerated the import of 
Vickovitch and his " mission," and there seemed small 
hope of a placable arrangement between Dost Mahomed 
and Ranjit Singh. All things conspired to drive a 
harassed Governor-General along the line of least resist- 


ance : and before February was out there came letters 
to Kabul that fairly extinguished hope in the hearts of 
Burnes and the Amir. His Lordship, it seemed, had no 
intention of complying with the latter 's proposals and 
requests. Peshawur belonged to the Sikhs. Theirs it 
must remain. 

"Then, and not till then, a change came over the con- 
duct of Dost Mahomed Khan." Not till then did the 
star of Burnes begin to set ; the star of Vickovitch arise 
and shine. He himself has left it on record that from 
December to the 20th of February he had been no more 
than two or three times in the presence of the Amir, who 
daily conversed with Burnes. If, after the 20th, matters 
took another turn, who shall blame the chief ? 

But, even so, the end was not yet. 

During the first week of March honest efforts to effect 
a compromise were made by the Nawab Jubbar Khan, 
brother of the Amir and a noted friend of the English. 

"To us it appears," said he, "that your Government 
sets too high a value on offers of friendship which ensure 
to Afghans no protection from hostility aroused by our 
refusing all intercourse with other nations. You, who 
are just, consider, is it justice that friends shall give 
service each to each, not merely one to the other? " 
And again Burnes, of the fluent tongue and pen, had no 
word for answer. 

On the 21st Dost Mahomed himself dispatched a final 
appeal, couched in language approaching humility. He, 
the Amir-i-Kabir whose fulsome greeting to Lord Auck- 
land was still fresh in the memory of both now begged 
only two words of encouragement. "Let his Lordship 
recognize me as Amir of Kabul," was his plea, "and I 
will forget the mortal feud between me and Shah Kamran, 
my enemy by blood. I will rush to his support with my 


best troops on the simple condition of receiving a sub- 
sidy for troops I shall employ in the Company's service." 
For the present he would not say another word about 
the restoration of Peshawur. Unpalatable language for 
the chief of an arrogant race. But it availed him 
nothing. Because he would not fling himself, uncon- 
ditionally, into an embrace that offered no protection, 
he was written down a " hostile chief, harbouring schemes 
of aggrandisement injurious to the security and peace of 
the frontiers of India." And at that time India's most 
northerly stations were Ludhiana and Ferozepore ! 

Before the middle of April Burnes knew that all was 
over. Judge, then, of his feelings when a few days 
later came Pottinger's letter dispatched on the 13th 
of March, together with Yar Mahomed's characteristic 

" We have got no cash now to spend, which is a hard 
case. By the grace of God, if we could get some cash 
we would preserve Herat . . . but in case we have no 
money it is impossible. Therefore I solicit the protection 
of the English. Friendship or animosity we will make 
with no Power but through the English Government. 
We will also abolish the system of slavery in this 
country." Worth noting, this last, in view of that 
which followed. 

To the man who almost reckoned Herat a frontier 
station of India this was ill news indeed. But help he 
had none to give, beyond a diplomatic letter of sympathy, 
and a consoling assurance that the "tale of woe" had 
been duly forwarded to the Gods of Olympus, whence 
practical help might possibly be forthcoming when all 
was over ! To Pottinger he wrote more frankly, con- 
fessing that anxiety for the fate of Herat tempted him 
to transmit the necessary sum from his own funds and 


risk the result. But in the end caution prevailed ; since 
further censure might seriously injure his own prospects. 
And nine days later when all the valleys were musical 
with snow-fed streams and Kabul had donned her spring 
sfiri wrought with all the blossoms of all the fruit trees 
of earth the curtain fell on the prologue of the great 
blunder ; ay, and worse than blunder : a drama of in- 
justice and indecision, of blood and terror, that culmin- 
ated in the first serious reverse to British arms since 
Clive had laid the foundation stone of empire, eighty 
years before. 

And Dost Mahomed Khan? 

To say that his conduct throughout had been entirely 
single-minded and straightforward would be to say he 
was no Afghan. Compared with Yar Mahomed, the 
tortuous, he was an angel of light : and it must be con- 
fessed that his sincere efforts to fall in with British 
demands contrast favourably with the behaviour of a 
Government that preached friendship and practically 
forced him into hostility ! a fact set forth, not without 
a touch of pathos and dignity, in his last letter to Burnes. 

" Mankind have no patience," he wrote, " without 
obtaining their objects ; and as my hopes in your 
Government are gone, I will be forced to have re- 
course to other Governments. It will be for the 
protection of Afghanistan, to save our honour, and 
God forbid, not from any ill design towards the 
British. . . . The Afghans have done nothing 
wrong, that any one should blame them ; nor have 
they received any injury from the English. 

" In making friends with any Government my 
object will be to save and enlarge Afghanistan ; and 


during these last seven months I have told you 
everything of note. You know the good and bad. 
Now I have consigned myself to God ; and in this 
no Government can blame me. There is no more 
to say which is not said ; and if you like to speak 
in person, or examine all the correspondence that 
passed between us, there is no objection. I am very 
much obliged to you for the trouble you took to 
come so far. I expected very much from your 
Government ; and hoped for the protection and 
enlargement of Afghanistan. Now I am disap- 
pointed, which I attribute not to the ill favour of 
the English, but to my own bad fortune. 
4 ' Creatures must rely on the Creator." 

The letter bears the stamp of sincerity ; and unques- 
tionably the Amir was justified of his actions. A small 
state, wedged between two rival Powers, he saw his 
country in danger of extinction except through alliance 
with one or the other. Great Britain would not : and 
Russia was on the spot, ready to snap up her leavings. 
What choice had the Amir? Russo-Persian promises 
were golden ; but they did not rejoice his heart. He 
knew that their acceptance would injure him in the eyes 
of all good Sunni Mahomedans. He began to perceive, 
also, that they rested on a foundation of sand. The 
defence of Herat had been prolonged beyond all expecta- 
tion. How would it end? 

Like the warning rumble of an earthquake came the 
fear that his new allies might be powerless to protect 
him after all. " A subaltern of the British Army, within 
the walls of Herat, was setting them at defiance." 


BUT throughout April and May that resolute spirit of 
defiance grew increasingly hard to maintain. All too 
soon it became evident that Russia's Ambassador had 
arrived at the psychological moment. The unpaid troops 
were deserting in numbers. Supplies and ammunition were 
scarcer than ever, and the Shah himself had begun to 
lose heart : when lo ! an unlooked-for saviour, from whose 
lips fell practical counsel, and from his hands golden 
encouragement, more potent still. Months of deferred 
pay, distributed among the soldiers, magically improved 
the temper of the army ; and under Russian direction 
more effective batteries came speedily into being. 

In fine, Count Simonich took over charge and con- 
ducted the siege : a state of affairs embarrassing as it 
was humiliating for Sir John McNeill. Yet, for a while, 
he held his ground, in the belief that his mere presence 
encouraged the Afghans : and, for a while, the Most 
Exalted enjoyed the importance of playing off one 
European Ambassador against another; while he noted, 
with satisfaction, how discontent and listlessness had 
vanished from his force like dew before the sun. Invest- 
ment had become more stringent. Stray bodies of troops, 
scattered over the plain, had been drawn more closely 
round the walls ; and, for the first time since their arrival, 
one competent brain controlled the movements of all. 
Russia's influence steadily increased, and that not only 
in the Persian camp. 

Those within the city noted the changes also ; but satis- 



faction was far from them. Harassed and disheartened 
by privations, lack of funds and England's apparent in- 
ability to disperse their foes, the Afghans began asking 
themselves : Of what avail to fly in the face of kismet, 
to multiply miseries, if it were written that defeat must 
comer And, as April gave place to May, miseries 
multiplied exceedingly ; while Nature, with sublime dis- 
regard of man's evanescent disasters, decked herself, like 
a vain girl, for her great spring festival in scarlet and 
purple, white and youngest green. For the time of tulips 
and thistles had come; and all the stony dasht of the 
foothills was glorified by splashes of regal colour, starred 
with the first golden blossoms of the low-growing wild 
rose. From each slenderest twig of the poplars border- 
ing the river diaphanous leaves fluttered, like prisoned 
butterflies, in the sun. But orchards, fields and vine- 
yards where were they? Never a curling tendril nor 
fairy blade pierced the scarred and battered earth. Only, 
here and there, a group of fruit trees, not yet cut down 
for fuel, blossomed bravely as if in defiance of the sacrificial 
knife. Even within the city, wherever a tree or two was 
left standing, spring's light laugh flashed out in piteous 
contrast to ruined streets, blackened woodwork and the 
prevailing atmosphere of the charnel house that grew 
more insupportable from day to day. How should it be 
otherwise, when thousands of mortals living, dying and 
dead were cooped up in one square mile of space, with 
never a drain to mitigate the pestilential mingling of 
refuse with decaying masses of that which had once been 
man. Even to the hardened Afghan such a state of 
things seemed far from pleasant; and to the sensitive 
nostrils of the British subaltern how much more so. 

But a siege is not a garden-party. A man must endure, 
as best he may, its inevitable ills ; and increasing activity 


without kept Pottinger more constantly than ever with 
Yar Mahomed on the works. 

In any case there was little to be done, and that little 
his good friend the Hakeem could be trusted to do with 
his might. In him, at least, the isolated European had 
found a kindred spirit, honestly zealous to serve his kind. 
Wherever sickness or suffering could be alleviated, there 
he would surely be found. But the calamity no man 
could alleviate increased daily : too little food and too 
many useless mouths that craved it. Bullets might slay 
their fifties ; but fever, famine and scurvy now began to 
slay their hundreds. Grain grew scarcer daily, and 
horses replaced the lack of sheep horses not paid for in 
money, but in superfluous humans, whose value was far 
less. Four or five of these would be given, readily, in 
exchange for one soulless beast convertible into food for 
fighting men. 

Each day the unseen enemy waxed in power, and each 
day brought word of the waning influence of McNeill. It 
was at this time that Eldred Pottinger first noted a 
change in the bearing of the chiefs, with whom he fore- 
gathered every evening in the Wazir's hall of audience ; a 
forced note in their frankness and good-fellowship ; an 
evident discomfiture under the British directness of his 
look and tone. 

The significance of tokens so unwelcome was all too 
plain : and upon the 23rd of May he arrived, at the usual 
hour, to find his supposed allies eagerly debating the im- 
mediate despatch of an envoy to the Russian Ambassador, 
acknowledging Herat's dependence on that power alone. 
It seemed that the King's European physician had been 
fostering the idea, for even as Pottinger entered Hajee 
Feroz was airing M. Euler's views on the question of the 


" From the store of his knowledge he hath assured me, 
brethren, that if such a step be taken Iran will fight no 
more, neither have the English power to interfere." 

"Shahbash! Well spoken! Let an envoy be de- 
spatched at dawn," was the general shout then silence, 
for there stood suddenly in the midst of them a boy of 
six-and-twenty, whose influence had gone steadily from 
strength to strength, based as it was on their unbounded 
admiration for courage and a half-puzzled respect for the 
man who invariably spoke truth, at whatever disadvantage 
to himself. 

The awkward silence lasted a minute or two. Pottinger 
had not suffered so unpleasant a shock since the day 
when Yar Mahomed refused him leave to depart. But 
his face gave no hint of the fact, and he was the first to 

Without heat, yet without a shadow of indecision, he 
rebuked them for a change of front unwarranted as yet ; 
bade them at least pause before committing themselves, 
if only in view of that urgent appeal sent to the Governor- 
General direct. 

"And how long would you have us wait, Pottinger 
Sahib ? " demanded a chief of pugnacious character, " for 
an answer that may never be vouchsafed to us? What 
assurance have we, except that while waiting our men are 
slain, our women and children die of pestilence and 
famine? " 

Pottinger fronted the speaker squarely. " A hard case, 
Sirdar Sahib. But war is not child's play at any time; 
and, having asked for help from India, at least allow 
time for help to arrive." 

" But McNeill Sahib " 

" Be assured McNeill Sahib is doing his utmost on your 
behalf. Consider also that to acknowledge Russian pro- 


tection is to sacrifice the independence of Herat, which 
the Government of India desires, at all costs, to pre- 
serve. Whatever can be done for your benefit my 
Government will do. Only have patience a little longer, 
seeing how difficult is the task in hand." 

His quiet bearing and placable speech were not with- 
out effect. The Afghans, though heartily sick of delay, 
recognized the wisdom of his plea. Further, the power 
of Russia, as of England, was a vague far-off abstraction ; 
but the power of this one man was present and concrete ; 
his good- will proven tenfold by word and deed. 

After much long-winded argument they consented to 
wait; and Pottinger, relieved for the moment, returned 
to his quarters. The incident dismayed him more than 
he would have cared to own had any one been by with 
whom he might take counsel in this fresh emergency. 
But none was by ; and no word came from McNeill, nor 
any letter from Burnes. He himself began to feel doubt- 
ful of the issue ; doubtful how far he dared make pro- 
mises in the name of his Government, accredited agent 
though he was. Yet by no other means could he hope 
to combat this new, insidious evil at the core of things. 

Night brought more of anxious thought than of sleep. 
Six months of hardship and incessant effort had told 
upon his health ; and with the first spell of Herat's rain- 
less summer heat, his old friend fever had returned to 
bear him company. Of late his string bed had been 
moved up on to the open house roof ; and for a long while 
he lay wide-eyed poised as it were between earth and 
the stars wondering greatly what the next few weeks 
would bring to pass. From below arose fitful voices and 
footsteps of those who courted darkness because their 
deeds were evil ; the cry of them that suffered unspeakable 
things ; the noisome breath of putrescence from burial 


pits and foul blind alleys, breeding-grounds of pestilence 
to come. While above, unnumbered leagues above the 
discord of Persian and Afghan, Russian and English 
above the lonely, wakeful subaltern on his string bed 
wheeled the unperturbed, inexorable battalions of the 
stars. And beyond these, again, this boy of early 
Victorian training and beliefs discerned the just, 
unsleeping governance of God. 

In the strength of that beholding he thrust aside 
anxiety and doubt; slept sound, woke early, and hurried 
to his post upon the works. 

The minister greeted him jovially ; good news in his 
eyes. " How great was your wisdom, my friend, in curb- 
ing the wild horses of impatience with the silken rein of 
good counsel 1 Lo, this morning it is rumoured that 
McNeill Sahib is indeed working actively on our behalf : 
having assured the Most Exalted that if Herat should 
fall into his hands it will be retaken again by a British 
army. To-day, also, Major Todd Sahib hath been sent 
to make arrangements with the Burra Ldt himself for 
sustenance of our people when the siege is at an end. 
Without doubt there is no better friend of the Afghans 
than your Government ; no power in Asia like the power 
of Great Britain ! " 

And so said every chief among them all, even they who 
had shouted loudest in favour of Russia the night before. 
Pottinger's brow cleared : and the word of hope sped, 
flame-like, through the city, rousing men to renewed 
activity and zeal. 

But the welcome reaction proved a flash in the pan. 
Too soon it transpired that Britain's good intentions had 
been overstated and the rising mercury fell again to zero. 
The counsel of Pottinger seemed no longer wisdom, but a 


snare into which the chiefs had foolishly fallen. Never 
again should a Feringhi over-persuade them. They alone 
would make their final decrees. 

Throughout the next few days meetings were many 
and ineffectual : for long privation, and seemingly futile 
resistance, had unsteadied the balance even of the shrewd- 
est. And as the wind blew east or west, so their bear- 
ing toward Pottinger veered between open discourtesy 
and respect. But such was the impression made by his 
pluck and energy throughout the siege that, whatever 
the quarter of the wind, he was present always, as a 
matter of course. " Notwithstanding," it is written in 
his journal, " that I might have been considered a doubt- 
ful friend, it was never contemplated that I should be 
kept out of their assemblies." 

At times he would be listened to as one in authority ; 
at times rudely shouted down. In either case he met 
their shifting moods with an unchanging front. " A man 
of temper and firmness ... the whole assembly might 
be against him, he was not to be overawed." And in 
dealing with Asiatics, moral courage of this quality has 
a value all its own. 

But beneath his mask of unconcern lurked increasing 
doubt and anxiety not easy to ignore. The silence of 
Sir John McNeill grew daily more ominous ; the shifting 
winds of favour and disfavour harder to be endured. 
On the S7th the arrival of Burnes* disheartening reply 
gave pretext sufficient for action, and Pottinger boldly 
demanded a private audience of Yar Mahomed Khan. 

Intimate speech between these sometime inseparables 
had been infrequent of late ; and Pottinger felt by no 
means certain how a show of remonstrance plus ill-tidings 
would be received. The suavity of Yar Mahomed 's 
greeting signified nothing one way or the other. 


" Good news at last, my friend, from the British 
camp ? " said he. 

And Pottinger, regarding him steadily: "No. Such 
news as I have is from Kabul " 

"Ah ha ! Money ? Troops ? ' ' 

" Neither as yet. Captain Burnes has no more power 
in such a matter than I myself. But he has sent on your 
appeal, with strong recommendation, to the Governor- 

Yar Mahomed considered that statement while 
pensively caressing his beard. 

" Your Burra Lat is a great man and a good. But 
our need is urgent, and Calcutta is two thousand miles 
distant : Tehran less than a thousand. What is your 
thought? Will troops or money be sent? " 

Pottinger hesitated. The other's tone implied that 
much hung on his answer ; and he knew the wishes of his 
Government, if not its intentions. He decided to take 
the risk. 

"I think only of money," said he. "And I have 
little doubt that it will be given to make good the total 
loss of crops and revenue arising from our long defence. 
But," he added slowly and with emphasis, "such help 
would only be forthcoming upon certain conditions, and 
on these conditions I must insist if you have any further 
desire for my services on your behalf." 

"You have but to name them," quoth the suave one, 
his bold eyes gleaming at the prospect of treasure. 
" Save for your services where would Herat be at this 
moment? " 

Pottinger smiled, not ill pleased. " Very much where 
it is now, no doubt. But, if you think otherwise, so 
much the better for my conditions ! They are two : 
Shah Kamran must never submit to be called a servant 

K 2 


of Persia ; nor must he on any account admit the inter- 
ference of Russia in his concerns." 

Now it was Yar Mahomed who smiled in quite another 

" You are moderate, my friend ! You know how to 
draw the teeth of an enemy." 

" I have not attended your assemblies this week with 
cotton wool in mine ears. If the British Ambassador 
knew of your recent conduct, he would probably have 
no more to say to you. But now for my conditions. 
You consent? " 

"What else? Money we must have; and as for our 
independence, neither I nor the Shah would ever yield it 
except under severest pressure. Nevertheless, with your 
sanction I will write once more undertaking to suppress 
slavery and make the Sunni Hazaras serve Persia,\if 
Ghorian and my brother be restored, and an order given 
for five or six thousand kurwars of grain. A fair 
bargain, O friend of the Afghans? " / 

" A fair bargain. Let it be at once set down." 
That night Pottinger slept long and soundly, pillowed 
on the satisfaction of having achieved a good day's work. 
Next morning the letter was despatched, and on the 
evening of the 29th came the long-looked-for note from 
Sir John McNeill. 

Rumours had not been promising of late. But youth 
is nothing if not sanguine, and Pottinger eagerly broke 
the seal ; then for a long minute stood very still, as is 
the way of strong natures under a shock. 

McNeill wrote that his relations with the Shah had of 
late become more strained than ever ; that political com- 
plications were many, and his position bristled with diffi- 
culties of uncertain outcome. Finally and it was this 
last that had stricken Pottinger motionlesshe impressed 


on his young assistant to refrain from making any sort 
of promise in the name of" Government, since he himself 
had just received warning to that effect. 

It was the Kabul policy over again. Friendship to be 
sustained on a lean diet of sympathy : and only the man 
on the spot knows how hopeless is the task. In Pot- 
tinger's case there was clearly nothing for it but a frank 
confession that he had exceeded his instructions, and that 
no certain help from India could be reckoned on. What 
the result to himself might be he could by no means fore- 
tell. But in the larger issues between nation and nation, 
the fate of individuals counts for nothing at all. 

It was the time of evening assembly ; and Pottinger's 
duty, however unpalatable, lay clear before him. With 
a muttered oath he pulled himself together and went 
straightway to the Takt-i-pul. 

His star had risen high in the past two days, and the 
chiefs gave him jovial greeting, the which he acknow- 
ledged with a courteous gesture. But the change in his 
bearing was apparent to all. Deliberately, though not 
without a secret sinking of the heart, he made his way 
toward Yar Mahomed Khan, and, ignoring a mute invita- 
tion to be seated, spoke so that every man might hear 

" Wazir Sahib, I have that to say which is no less 
unpleasant for myself than for you." 

The minister started ; the buzz of talk dropped to a 
disconcerting stillness. Only Pottinger's deep-toned voice 
went on 

"Two days ago, in my great desire to give what help 
and hope I could to your suffering city, I spoke with 
assurance of money for yourself and sustenance for your 
people from the Indian Government. To-day I am 
obliged to tell you straightly that I exceeded my powers. 
I am advised by Sir John McNeill to make no promises 


that the Governor-General may find himself unable or 
unwilling to carry out." 

For a full minute the stillness held. Then the storm 
broke as Pottinger had known it must in a general 
clamour ; a fierce outburst of invective against himself, 
against McNeill and the entire British nation, that thrust 
upon harmless folk agents without authority, caring 
nothing if good came of it or ill. 

Among the more turbulent were cries of " Turn out the 
infidel!" "May God roast him and his!" "What 
further use is he now? " And thereat the pugnacious 
chief, who had opposed Pottinger on the 23rd, took up 
the tale. 

"Use? Nay, hath he not harmed us rather? Dis- 
suading us, for his own ends, from an alliance we would 
have made good a week ago, and coming to us now with 
his lame story of ' exceeded powers ' " 

"Not too late, brother, even now," broke in one who 
sat near. "The grey-coats are without the gates, and 
it is said that their friendship with the Shah increaseth 

This suggestion turned the torrent of the talk into 
another channel ; and for a space Eldred Pottinger stood 
silent, seemingly unmoved, while fresh schemes for a 
Russian alliance were vociferously discussed. 

Then, turning to the Wazir, he made his voice heard 
again above the tumult. 

" In spite of all, Wazir Sahib, I have the right to ask 
one question. Am I to be insulted without a fair hear- 
ing, or shall I go forth of your assembly not to 
return? " 

That last made Yar Mahomed give pause. For he 
knew his man. 

"Silence, brothers, silence! " he shouted, and was 


obeyed. "Shall we altogether forget, in our anger and 
bitterness of heart, that Pottinger Sahib hath fought 
with us, suffered with us and eaten our salt these many 
months. Let him be heard." 

Among Afghans an appeal to the claim of "salt " is 
rarely made in vain, and the Wazir's " Let him be 
heard " was echoed, none too graciously, here and there. 

" Speak on, then, Pottinger Sahib," said he. " Though 
I see not that much remains to be said." 

" On mine own behalf this much," the other answered 
quietly. " That it is scant justice to abuse a man as if 
he were an enemy because he speaks truth. Can any of 
you believe that I spoke lightly words so bitter to your 
ears? How much easier had it been to keep silence, 
leaving you in a Paradise of fools? My zeal for your 
interests need scarcely be spoken of. But have I more 
power to disobey the British minister than you yourselves 
to disobey the Shah ? It may be that he is over-cautious, 
because of difficulties in camp ; and I can only advise 
that I should write once again, showing him openly the 
great disappointment in your hearts. By this means it 
is possible we may induce him to countenance my given 
promise of help. Is it well spoken? " 

"Manfully spoken." " Shahbash, Pottinger Sahib! " 
"It is English friendship we desire above all! " 

The change of tone was manifest : and Pottinger, once 
more relieved, went with Yar Mahomed to his quarters, 
where between them they laid their desperate case before 
Sir John McNeill. 


ONE mercy, at least, was accorded them. They were 
not kept long in suspense. All too soon came word from 
Sir John McNeill that his influence in the Persian camp 
was practically at an end, and that the open disrespect 
shown to the British nation, in his person, would make 
departure imperative before many days were over. 

Here was news to dismay the stoutest ; and Pottinger, 
as he read, saw plainly that now, in effect, the fate of 
Herat hung upon his own exertions, his own power to 
uphold the wavering manhood of the Afghans even in the 
face of British retreat. The thing must be done : there- 
fore it could be done. That was his simple rule of life ; 
and, happily for him, the bearer of McNeill 's dishearten- 
ing note brought news of an impending attack, more 
vigorous, more concerted than any attempted as yet. 
Such news would give the colour of cowardice to any talk 
of negotiations before the event. A point worth em- 
phasizing, nor was it emphasized in vain. Afghan pride 
and bravado, though beginning to wear thin, could still 
be galvanized into a fair show of life ; and independence, 
at any price, was the mood of the moment. Let the 
Persian dogs do their worst ! They could never scale the 
ramparts or occupy the fausse-braie. Let them come on ! 

None the less it was with secret misgivings that they 
watched the British camp fall to pieces, tent by tent, 
till nothing remained of it but a party of horsemen and 
transport mules trailing leisurely northward into the 
dusty heart of the horizon. The most ignorant knew the 



meaning of that unwelcome departure. England's alliance 
with Persia was at an end. 

This was on June the 7th ; and on the 13th came the 
first taste of renewed hostilities. A deserter from the 
city had basely made it known that, during the midday 
hours, even the defence of the fausse-braie was neglected 
in favour of rest : and behold, half-a-dozen sleepy 
Afghans suddenly confronted with a Persian storming 
party in full force. 

"Allah Allah! Wali-illa-ullaha-o ! " The name of 
God rang out from a score of throats, and the crackle of 
devil's laughter from a score of muskets. But the sleepy 
half-dozen stood firm in the narrow traverses, till the 
clamour brought a relieving party to their aid. Thus 
reinforced, they sprang boldly over the parapets, and 
rushing headlong down the outer slope, repulsed the 
Persians with heavy loss. 

The effect of this slight incident was magical. In spite 
of British desertion, it seemed that the kismet of the 
Afghans still held good. Despondency evaporated. The 
lively flame of hope leaped high. But it was a little 
flame and lean ; pitifully sensitive to adverse breezes. 
And in the week of activity that followed, the besiegers 
displayed a mind-directed energy conspicuously absent 
hitherto. Breaches yawned wide and wider. The wet 
ditch was filled up at many points, and at others spanned 
with light practical bridges. Worse than all, under the 
guidance of Russian officers the dread mining operations 
were renewed with such skill and persistence as a worn- 
out garrison could not hope to match. Buffeted thus, 
the little flame died down ; and despondency uprose again, 
like a noxious miasma, stupefying the will and courage 
of all. Even the stalwart bearing of Yar Mahomed Khan 


had suffered a change that augured ill for the fate of 

Yet there remained one soldier among them whose 
courage was above proof. 

In these days of threatened collapse, when the whole 
head was sick and the whole heart faint, Eldred Pottinger 
did but exert himself the more unsparingly; and his 
recognized position went far to strengthen his hand. 
That none thanked him goes without saying. Many 
abused him, rather, for having dissuaded them from a 
compact that might, then, have been entered into with- 
out imputation of cowardly surrender. Then they might 
have won the support of Russia's powerful arm. Now 
they would be crushed beneath her heel. Useless to 
attempt response or argument. He could only work on ; 
patching up the battered defences; animating by his 
presence and example the half-starved, ill-paid soldiers ; 
trusting that in due time his chance might come to 
answer, with deeds, the thankless ones for whom he 
wrought. And in due time it came to him who knew 
better than most men how to wait. 

The 22nd brought news of an impending assault upon 
all five gates at once ; significant news to Pottinger, who 
had realized, long since, that an attack on these lines 
constituted their only grave danger. Well planned and 
vigorously executed, it could scarcely fail; the Afghans 
being too few and faint-hearted to hold four miles of 
wall against more than three times their number. 

But no man of Pottinger 's calibre seriously antici- 
pates defeat. By prompt and effective preparations the 
dispirited garrison might yet be roused to make a resolute 
resistance : that was his dominant thought. He discussed 
it with his friend Deen Mahomed while making his daily 


round of the works, and the big Afghan listened, 
pensively nodding his head. 

"Wise counsel, Sahib," said he. "But will it find 
favour with the Wazir ? Your honour hath seen how, of 
late, he goeth like one without hope. And when the 
leader loseth hope, it is as if to fling wide the gates and 
bid the enemy walk in." 

" That shall never happen, my friend, while I am in 
this city," the Englishman asserted, with such quiet 
confidence that the Asiatic felt his own revive. 

" The Sahib hath heart and courage enough for a 
whole regiment ! Wherefore his v/ord carrieth weight 
even with the \Vazir. May it prevail! " 

But upon this most critical occasion it did not prevail. 
An apathy, almost incredible, seemed to have fallen upon 
the hitherto strong and resourceful Yar Mahomed Khan. 
Whether he foresaw defeat, and was at his old trick of 
safeguarding himself against the wrath of Persia, who 
shall say? The fact remains that neither advice nor 
entreaty could move him, nor any report, however circum- 
stantial, convince him of danger at hand. 

"All things are written," was his unanswerable con- 
clusion. "In my belief, they come not. But if they 
come it will be seen. The man who strives against 
kismet is a madman and a fool." 

For all that, the madman and fool did what he could ; 
and thanks to his energy, the guards at all points were 
at least in readiness when day dawned upon the 24th of 

The Persians, as usual, could not resist an opening 
display of fireworks. Then silence a long silence ; while 
sentries upon walls and towers saw plainly that five dis- 
tinct bodies of troops were advancing, in order, to the five 
gateways of Herat. Yet the Wazir, seemingly un- 


troubled, sat in his quarters, and the garrison, as was 
natural, followed his lead. Overpowered with heat and 
faint from semi-starvation, many of them had even 
settled down to their midday sleep. 

Then, of a sudden, silence and false security were 
shattered by a rocket overhead. Boom boom from the 
south. And again, boom, boom, from the west. North 
and east returned an answering challenge; and from all 
sides at once came an angry crackle of musketry. 

Doubt was no longer possible. The threatened assault 
had begun. 

Everywhere men sprang up in alarm, shook off drowsi- 
ness and seized their weapons. Roused at last, Yar 
Mahomed hurried out of his quarters to the nearest point 
of attack. Pottinger himself stayed only to impress on 
Allah Dad Khan certain instructions to be carried out 
should he fall in the city's defence ; then all eagerness 
for action made haste to join the Wazir. Him he found 
by the Kandahar gate whence the enemy had already 
been repulsed thundering out orders to the confused 
chiefs that they should join him forthwith in defence of 
the breach near the south-east angle. But the chiefs, 
unready as the rest, were too slow for his newly-born 
impatience and alarm. 

"Come on, Pottinger Sahib," he cried at sight of his 
British ally. "While we halt for these laggards the 
Persians will be through the walls." 

But now it was the truer soldier who counselled delay. 
" Small use, Wazir Sahib, to go lamely forward with a 
mere escort ! A bold advance in force is our one chance 
against so determined an assault." 

But on that critical day Yar Mahomed seems to have 
lost his balance beyond recall. Deaf to reason, he and 
his handful of men straggled up towards the fausse-braie 


more like a party of curious idlers, than soldiers eager to 
repel invasion. And Pottinger, cursing the change that 
had come upon the man, could but go with them, resolved 
at heart to save the city if might be, in spite of herself. 

For the struggle at the south-east angle, though brief, 
had been fiercer by far than the rest. At every other 
point the Persians had either been repulsed or failed in 
their advance. But here, in the first resolute rush, the 
lower fausse-braie had been carried, its Afghan defenders 
falling at their posts to a man ; then the storming party, 
with yells of triumph, had clambered on up the slope 
undeterred by brisk, irregular firing till the higher 
trench was reached. 

Another struggle here, more stubborn and deadly than 
the one below. But the Afghans were hopelessly out- 
numbered. No matter how many Persians might fall, 
others rushed like water into a vacuum, filling up the 
gaps. As well might straws resist the rising tide. They 
were up ; they swarmed like ants over the parapets and 
through the narrow traverses. Checked for a space by 
the shock of a gallant resistance, they flung themselves at 
last into the trench and the upper fausse-braie, the 
Afghans' impregnable rock of defence, was gone. 

Still no advent of reserves ; no sign from the city of 
troops coming to their support. The foremost assailants, 
yelling like devils on the track of a lost soul, had almost 
gained the breach itself. Then, of a sudden, came 
answering yells from within ; and the yawning gap was 
closed against intruders by Deen Mahomed with the 
Afghan reserve. 

Shouts of triumph were checked on the lips by a 
storm of lead. Afghan knives flashed here and there, 
achieving deathly work. The daring "forwards" were 
driven with slaughter out of the breach. But the fausse- 


braie overflowed with others eager to take their place. 
Twice they swarmed up again, and twice were flung 
backward in confusion ; living, dying and dead. Yet a 
third time they returned, their number seemingly un- 
diminished ; and at that Been Mahomed's little band, 
despairing of support, began to waver. Quietly, sur- 
reptitiously, those behind slipped away ; some openly 
deserting, some feigning a concern for the wounded rare 
enough amongst their kind; while the Persians pressed 
forward with hope renewed. 

Then it was that Yar Mahomed and his straggling 
escort drew near the gate of slaughter. They saw their 
men covertly retreating : heard the uproar swell louder : 
Persian yells of triumph telling their own tale. Almost 
the day seemed lost : almost but not quite. Persia had 
at least one man to reckon with before she could set foot 
in Herat. 

For Eldred Pottinger sprang forward, checking the 
deserters with scathing speech and shouting to the escort 
behind : " Close up, men, and come on. It is not yet too 
late to save the city." 

But sights and sounds that fired the British subaltern 
seemed to paralyze the Afghan Sirdar. Instead of con- 
firming Pottinger 's order he hesitated, stood still, and 
finally sat down upon a ruined wall, gloomily wagging 
his head. Amazed and indignant, Pottinger swung 
round on his heel. " What ails you now, Wazir Sahib? " 
cried he. " Bestir yourself and play the man, or all will 
be lost indeed." 

He spoke as to one stunned. "No use, my friend," 
the Wazir answered sullenly. " How shall a handful of 
half-starved men make stand against four times their 
number? All things are written; and if Allah fighteth 
for the Persians who can hinder them? " 


"I can if none else will ! " retorted Eldred Pottinger, 
his eyes ablaze with scorn. " And you can also, will you 
but shake off this devil of despondency. Go forward, 
even with this small remnant, to hearten those who are 
coward-like retreating. Or at least send your son and 
return yourself to hasten the chiefs. Shall it be written 
in the page of history that Yar Mahomed Khan, through 
sheer cowardice, lose Herat? " 

That dread word stung the man to action, if to nothing 

4 * None hath ever called me coward, Pottinger Sahib, 
nor shall ! " he cried out angrily ; and springing to his 
feet, gave orders that his son return to hasten the chiefs, 
while he pushed on to encourage the garrison. 

But the nearer they drew, the more desperate seemed 
the case. The Persians were pressing their advantage to 
the utmost, though as yet they had not set foot within 
the breach. 

" Smite, brothers, in the name of Allah ! Smite and 
slay! " the Wazir shouted desperately. 

But his voice lacked its wonted ring of command. No 
answering shout gave him welcome, and the few who 
rallied half-heartedly were thrust back by those in front. 
At that Yar Mahomed's spurious flicker of energy died 
out. Instead of forcing his way boldly into the melee 
he stood still again, sullen and despondent as before. 

' 'Now you can see for yourself, Pottinger Sahib. 
Without fresh aid they can do nothing. Better go back 
for it at once. Through too much privation these men 
have not the hearts of mice in their great bodies." 

'They have hearts ten times more manly than your 
own ! " Pottinger retorted hotly, not staying to pick his 
words. " The gap being narrow, they only need deter- 
mined support to hold their own against an army. But 


if you turn back, they, not knowing the reason, will 
follow like sheep and who shall blame them? " 

But Yar Mahomed had turned already, and Pottinger 
must needs keep pace with him to enforce his argument, 
justified as it was by the prompt retreat of those who 
had rallied at their coming. 

" Behold whether I speak truth," he went on eagerly; 
then, halting, turned upon those who followed ; and, the 
space being narrow, he and a few others forcibly drove 
them back. "Now then, Wazir Sahib, you have seen," 
he urged, undismayed. " Have you resisted so long, only 
to sit down like a weakling when the real crisis comes ? 
Will you not also return ? You that should not follow, 
but lead ! " 

Startled by the dire effect of his move, Yar Mahomed 
stood still. "And having returned," he asked lamely, 
"what remaineth to be done? " 

As if in answer came the rush of hurrying feet from 
the city a Sultan with fifty men. 

" This much remains," Pottinger answered decisively, 
as the troops came up. "Let the Sultan and his men 
make haste to gain the lower fausse-braie, and pushing 
swiftly along, take the storming party in flank ; whilst 
we, at the same moment, force our remnant here to make 
one more assault down the breach. You agree? " 

" Yes yes. Do as you will," the Afghan made answer 
without enthusiasm. He waved a commanding hand to 
the new-comers. " Go at once and carry out the Sahib's 

The Sultan, with admirable promptitude, turned to 
obey, while the Wazir sat on, looking after him with a 
clouded brow. 

At that Eldred Pottinger came near to despair. What 
possessed the man, on this day of all others, was more 


than he could conceive. But the minutes were grains of 
gold, not to be squandered in speculation ; and shaking the 
Afghan by the shoulder as one shakes a sleeper, Pot- 
tinger cried out desperately, "Sirdar Sahib, rouse your- 
self for God's sake and the honour of your country. Are 
you mad that you sit inert at so perilous a juncture? " 

Yar Mahomed, scowling, shook his head. "It is you 
that are mad, rather. The plan is a good one, but we 
are too few. Allah hath strengthened the arm of the 
Persian, and no man can fight against God." 

"Bismttlah! Use not the sacred name to whitewash 
your despicable soul," the Englishman thundered, giving 
rein at last to the anger that consumed him. Entreaty 
being useless, he lashed the man's thick hide with an 
outburst of scathing Afghan abuse, till a fresh onslaught 
at the breach drowned his voice. Then, seizing Yar 
Mahomed by the wrist, he fairly dragged him to his 

"By God, you white-livered tyrant you shall come 
on ! Die if you must. But at least die like a man ! '' 

Still grasping his amazed and thoroughly awakened 
ally, he rushed onward, shouting encouragement to those 
ahead and calling to those behind, who, with one accord, 
followed his impetuous lead. 

Yar Mahomed caught fire at last. Wrenching himself 
free, he snatched up a heavy stick and rushed upon the 
hindmost, laying about him blindly with the full force 
of his arm. Laggards and deserters, cramped up in the 
narrow space, had no choice but to flee before him. Some 
in their terror over-leapt the parapets and fled wildly 
down the outer slope, others were forced into the midst 
of the defenders at the breach, Pottinger and Yar 
Mahomed following close upon their heels not one 
moment too soon. 


A great cry went up : " They come they come ! 
Herat is saved! " 

And, impelled from within, the whole body rushed 
violently forward, driving back the startled Persians as 
though an army were upon their heels. 

At that same moment the Sultan's flank movement, 
along the lower trench, turned passing discomfiture into 
sheer panic. Fresh troops from the late-awakened city 
came pouring into the breach. The assailants fled pell- 
mell, tumbling one over another in their eagerness to be 
gone ; and Herat was saved indeed saved, under God, by 
the gallantry and spirit of that little-recognized builder 
of Empire the British subaltern. 


SOME two weeks later, Eldred Pottinger sat alone in 
his private corner of the Hakeem's house : a mud box of 
a room, but at least entirely his own. And to realize 
the unspeakable blessedness of those three words, a man 
needs to have spent months in the wayside mosques and 
serais of Afghanistan, eating and sleeping cheek by jowl 
with vermin-ridden Moslems, to whom soap is a super- 
fluity and a hair-brush unknown. Here, indeed, soap 
superfluous or no was past hoping for ; and one solitary 
tin plate served him for all meals, that had grown scant 
and scantier as the summer wore on. But some measure 
of cleanliness he could and did manage to achieve, more 
especially since the arrival of Allah Dad Khan, who 
served him stupidly yet faithfully throughout his long, 
eventful sojourn at Herat. 

One unglazed window looked upon an inner courtyard, 
white-hot with afternoon sunshine, and admitted such 
pestilent air as Herat could boast on the 9th of July in 
that unforgettable summer of '38. Furniture there was 
none save the chair he sat on its vanished cane seat 
supplied by the lid of a case and a ricketty deal table, 
steadied for writing by wads of paper. 

That table held the greater part of his belongings, 
neatly set out : hair-brushes, sextant, Bible, Elphinstone's 
Kabul, and the slim, mottled native books wherein he 
kept a daily account of the siege that, for all the success 
of his crowning effort, was not by any means at an end. 

In this sacred hour of siesta the whole exhausted city 

L 2 147 


lay inert as at midnight under the pitiless blaze of noon. 
Only flies and wasps, in their millions, were ceaselessly 
astir, teasing the sleepers and swarming unrebuked over 
the dead ; while the hot wind of July blew fitfully, filling 
the air with poisonous powder of dust. Between flies and 
the fire of intermittent fever, Pottinger had given up the 
futile attempt at sleep, and now sat at his table, bare- 
headed, in loose shirt and trousers, thoughtfully re-reading 
his detailed but unadorned entry for the 24th of June. 

Seven months of severe privation, of imprisonment 
within one overcrowded, insanitary, square mile of space, 
had graven new lines upon the strong, young face, which 
looked years older than on the day he set out from Kutch . 
The healthy red-brown of the skin was gone. Eye sockets 
and cheek bones showed too painfully clear, and anxious 
thought had scored a deep furrow between his brows. 
That furrow deepened as he read. Something in his 
simple record of the day's events seemed to dissatisfy him. 
His entry, as it stood, was bald enough in all conscience, 
But the recurrent letter " I " jarred on the innate 
modesty of the man : a modesty so rare, in such a case, 
that it would scarce be credited were it not proven by 
the work of his own hand. 

When Sir John Kaye, twenty years later, compiled, 
from this same journal, the history of the siege, he 
testified that wherever Pottinger had originally written 
" I " he had erased the egotistical letter and so altered 
the wording, that only by giving rein to a curiosity, 
pardonable enough in the circumstances, was Sir .John 
able to extract the real history of Pottinger 's achieve- 
ments on that memorable 24th of June. What men 
thought of them without the walls, and how swiftly the 
tale of them passed from lip to lip, had been proven 
within two days of the event : when a stranger from 


Karack some thirty miles off had prostrated himself 
before "the saviour of Herat," effusively kissing his 
hands and crying: " Praise be to Allah, who hath 
permitted me to make so great a pilgrimage ! " 

But fame, like any other gift of the gods, is bought 
with a price, and Pottinger soon saw that his enhanced 
reputation as a warrior had been gained at the expense 
of a popularity he could ill afford to lose. 

True, by sheer dash and determination he had saved 
the city and carried the day. But victory, achieved in 
the teeth of failure, wrought no exultation in those who 
knew that nothing short of a miracle could enable them 
to withstand another assault of the same character. 
Letters found on the body of a Persian general proved 
the whole design to be the work of Russian officers ; and 
the Persians, though dispirited for the nonce, had 
resources to make good their loss. The resources of 
Herat were at an end. Citizens could not be fed. 
Soldiers could not be paid. " The bearing of the 
Afghans was that of men who had sustained a crushing 
defeat. . . . Yar Mahomed, long after all danger was 
past, moved about as one confused and bewildered. . . . 
The loss on both sides had been severe, and a week of 
inaction supervened." Even when, at length, the 
garrison set about repairing the damage done, it was but 
too clear that they lacked heart, as their leaders lacked 

To preserve a resolute temper and balanced judgment 
in an atmosphere so crestfallen, so befogged with gloom, 
was almost beyond human power : and Pottinger had 
deep-seated reasons for the heart-searchings and anxieties 
that crowded into his brain as he sat revising his journal 
in the stifling stillness of that July afternoon. Not only 
were the difficulties of his own position increased ; but the 


torments of the people were pitiful beyond telling. Mere 
death from starvation was the least of their ills. Where- 
ever money or jewels might conceivably exist thither went 
the soldiers of Yar Mahomed Khan, leaving in their 
wake racked bodies, terror-smitten minds, and too often 
ruined homes. 

To Pottinger's sensitive soul the horror of it all cul- 
minated in the consciousness that, but for him, the inter- 
minable struggle would have been over two weeks ago. 
By his very impulse of heroism he knew himself indirectly 
responsible for a reign of terror it sickened him to see. 
And others knew it also : nor troubled to conceal the 
fact. Many reproached him openly ; the despairing looks 
and gaunt figures of others reproached him more painfully 
still, intensifying the hidden struggle between the soldier 
and man. 

Yet what else was there to be done? The unanswer- 
able question repeated itself a dozen times a day, with 
the maddening iteration of a clock striking the hours. 
As British officer and political agent his duty was clear ; 
but the great pitiful heart of him revolted fiercely against 
its inevitable result. 

In the light of fuller knowledge it is easy to belittle the 
whole affair : to question the importance of the issues at 
stake. But Pottinger, prisoned between four walls of a 
blockaded town, could not know that the importance of 
checking Russo-Persian aggression had been inflated by 
statesmen and politicians, scared out of their wits by 
the bogey of imminent invasion. He only knew, from 
Burnes and Stoddart, that the fall of Herat would be 
looked on as a grave disaster, a possible prelude to war. 
In the light of that knowledge he acted, and in that light 
his actions must be judged. 

The very fact that McNeill had retired, discomfited, 


seemed to make a strong stand the more incumbent on 
himself : sole representative as he was of British interests 
and British prestige in that unlovely corner of earth. 
Nor did he swerve from his resolve to uphold both in 
the face of any odds : though at this time a sense of help- 
lessness, of utter isolation, shadowed his sanguine soul as 
never yet. For all practical purposes the world had 
shrunk to one plague-spot of disease and torment within 
four battered walls : its horizon the outermost pickets of 
the Persian army; its supreme problem how to obtain 
money and food for hapless thousands destitute of both. 
In three months no word had reached him from his own 
people, any of whom might, for all he knew, be dead 
and buried ; and indeed, for all they knew, a like fate 
might have been his. As for Lord Auckland's answer 
to that appeal, writ in the far-off beginning of things, it 
might be endlessly delayed in transit, if indeed it had 
not long since been intercepted : a far more likely event. 
" Sahib, is your honour at leisure? " 
It was the voice of Allah Dad Khan, devoted watch- 
dog, zealous to shield his master from unauthorized 

At the Sahib's bidding he entered and announced the 
head of the Jews. These, no less than the Shiahs, had 
suffered cruelly at the hands of the Wazir. Only three 
days ago Pottinger had interfered to save their synagogue 
from being hacked down for fuel ; and now, behold his 
penalty ! Like most of his race, nothing disconcerted 
him more than being thanked for his services, save the 
awkward duty of thanking another. But courtesy for- 
bade dismissal : and, as it chanced, the old Rabbi's honest 
emotion put self-consciousness to flight. 

Without word of formal greeting he prostrated him- 
self, muttered inaudible blessings, and with trembling 


hands pressed a corner of the Christian's cloak to his 

Pottinger, deeply moved, raised him up and rebuked 
him in all gentleness, saying : " My friend, I am neither 
king nor deity that you should kneel to me. Nor is 
there need of thanks. Enough for me that I was per- 
mitted to save the house of God from sacrilege. Be 
seated, till Allah Dad Khan shall bring us tea." 

The Rabbi obeyed, squatting cross-legged on the 
shabby cushion whereon Pottinger had vainly courted 
sleep; and the two were soon deep in talk upon the one 
eternal subject, fertile, yet profitless as the pouring of 
water into a sieve. 

But even while the Afghan set before them chupattis 
and steaming bowls of a grey, tasteless liquid, came the 
sound of flying footsteps, and a gaunt ghost of a man 
flung himself, without ceremony, into the room. Stumb- 
ling in his haste he fell forward, his arms clasped close 
about a bundle hid beneath his draperies. But before 
Allah Dad Khan could remonstrate in language befitting 
the intrusion, he w r as up again and the bundle rolled with, 
a clink to Pottinger 's feet. 

"Protector of the poor, forgive and save! " its owner 
entreated, skeleton hands set palm to palm. " Therein 
is this slave's remnant of ducats and of jewels. All else 
hath been wrested from me by the torments of hell. And 
when they return again " a shudder convulsed him 
" how shall I withstand them, weak as I am for lack of 
food? Here only, into your Honour's house, they dare 
not intrude. Hide them, Sahib oh, hide them! that 
when this handful of bones shall be flung with others 
into the pit, my house and my babes shall not be alto- 
gether at the mercy of the merciless. Your Honour wiJI 
not refuse? " 


For Pottinger's brow had grown stern, and sterner, 
with the progress of a too familiar tale. But if his 
exacting conscience harboured any shadow of doubt as 
to the justification, risk apart, of such constant conniv- 
ance against authority, the note of terror in the man's 
last words must have swept it clean away. 

" No, I do riot refuse," he said quietly. " Rest assured 
your treasure will be safe in my keeping." 

And the Herati, unnerved by sheer relief, fell without 
warning into a sobbing heap on the ground. 

Then Eldred Pottinger, gloom on his brow, and a 
great pity in his eyes, leaned down and laid a steadying 
hand upon that inconsiderable fragment of human misery, 
urging it to keep command of itself and play the man. 
Something in his tone seemed to touch a hidden spring. 
The Herati struggled unsteadily to his feet and executed 
a profound salaam. 

" Let not the protector of the poor and saviour of the 
helpless whom Allah raise to the seat of power ! regard 
this slave as one altogether without courage. But 
naught hath passed my lips, save water, these three days ; 
and too little food in the belly leaveth too little manhood 
in the heart. Moreover, last night . . . they came . . . 
to the house of my cousin, next mine own, and I heard 
all. Wellnigh an hour they strove with him, even until 
the life was wrenched from his body : and the death wail 
of his house continued until the morning. Then I, going 
forth, stumbled upon that which had been flung down 
like a dead dog upon the threshold : and I said in my 
heart, To-morrow at the dawn how shall it be with thee?" 

Grey aa death, he swayed and would again have fallen ; 
but Pottinger, springing up swiftly, prevented him, and 
gently forcing him on to the chair, set before him his own 
untasted meal. Without a word the Herati fell upon 


the food, like a starving animal ; and only when tea and 
chupattis were gone, to the last drop and crumb, did an 
acute attack of shame set in. He unmentionable scum 
of the earth had eaten the food of the most noble ; food 
that was dearer than gold even in houses of the great ! 
And although Pottinger abruptly cut him short, he was 
not to be withheld from saluting the foot of his saviour, 
on whom be honour and glory in the years to come. 

Thereafter he vanished a pitiful unit among hun- 
dreds of his kind ; but not until the Rabbi had also taken 
his leave did the disapproving wrath of Allah Dad Khan 
break in thunder on his master's devoted head. 

4 'May God roast the whining coward! " he cried out 
hotly. " Of what avail to waste our last spoonful of tea 
and flour upon a low-born, who already hath one foot 
in Hell ? Allah alone knows where I am to procure the 
morrow's supply. Hazur, if this madness of giving be 
not checked " 

But Pottinger, silencing him with an impatient gesture, 
held out the empty bowl and platter. " Better wash 
these than waste thine energy in fool's talk," said he, not 
unkindly. " Later on I go to the assembly, where no 
doubt tea will be served. In any case a man can live 
longer upon air than he is apt to believe. Now go. 
I have need to be alone." 

The Afghan could not choose but obey ; and Pottinger, 
closing his journal with its record of a seemingly futile 
achievement sat on a long while, lost in thought, his 
aching head pressed between his hands. 

The case of the hapless Herati was but one of scores, 
more harrowing, more desperate, as he had too good 
reason to know. Scarce a day had passed of late with- 
out bringing him some such proof of the Wazir's inhuman 
methods of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Ladies of rank, 


even those of the Shah's household, had been threatened. 
None were safe, none sacred in this terrible conjuncture. 
And this was the man with whom he, Eldred Pottinger, 
was constrained to work as a friend this human devil 
for whom the words justice and mercy were sounds with- 
out sense. To unite with him against the common enemy 
without had been feasible enough. But now common 
humanity was forcing Pottinger into secret and often 
dangerous conflict with his formidable ally : and what 
would be the end of it all ? 

How far removed was his daily round in this noisome 
city, his daily contact with human nature in its most 
hideous aspect, from the rough but wholesome hardships 
of the Road, toward which he yearned almost as a woman 
toward her son. 

If any good were like to come of it if he could see 
any goal ahead ! But of what avail had been his efforts 
and privations, or even his final achievement ? And yet 
he must by some means stumble on, like a man walking 
in the dark, with only the hidden lantern of conscience 
to guide him over the rough ground, one step at a time ; 
only the steadfast conviction that his thwarted purpose 
and all it involved were no interruption to God's provi- 
dence; but rather an integral part of it to which he 
himself did not hold the key. 


AN hour later Pottinger pulled himself together, 
combated the ache of emptiness in Asiatic fashion by 
tightening his kummerbund, and moistened his parched 
throat with a draft of lukewarm water. All hope of 
slaking thirst had been given up long ago. The nauseous 
fluid waked a mocking memory of iced brandy pegs and 
cool verandahs in the far-off, luxurious days that seemed 
almost to belong to another life; since there-out came 
no news, nor any word of greeting. Metaphorically he 
tightened also the belt about his heart, buckling it close 
with the stoic counsel of Achilles : " Let our sorrows 
rest in our hearts ; for there is no profit in lamentation." 
Then he went forth, as usual, to the evening assembly 
of Yar Mahomed Khan. 

There were times, as now, when he shrank from sight 
and touch of the man : yet, for the very people's sake 
if for no weightier reason the travesty of friendship 
must be played out. Go he must ; but, in going, he 
devoutly hoped there might be no call to discuss matters 
intimate and confidential. 

A vain hope : he knew it on the moment of arrival. 
There was purpose in Yar Mahomed's haste to welcome 
him ; purpose in the compelling hand that urged him, 
under cover of casual talk, toward an inner room, where 
cushions and steaming bowls of tea were set out 
for two. Sight of the last went far to allay Pottinger 's 

"You are late, my friend," the VVazir remarked 



suavely, as they sat down. " Doubtless through over- 

"No, I slept not at all," Pottinger answered, adding, 
without proffered excuse: "There is fresh difficulty? ' 

"Inshallah! How shall there be an end of difficulty 
when one partner to the bargain is a Persian? Ill hap 
for us that your valour, beyond praise, upon that day of 
slaughter hath aroused anger unappeasable in the mind 
of Mahomed Shah. And to-day come letters from the 
Haji, also from my brother, rebuking me for base deser- 
tion of Islam in favour of infidels, who, through flattery 
and payment of money, would gain the whole country for 
themselves. Shere Mahomed w r rites also that until the 
envoy of the blasphemers your honourable self ! hath 
been dismissed from the city, neither their Moojtehid 
nor the agent of Russia will come hither, to treat for 
terms of peace. Nay, more the Most Mighty hath sent 
word that Herat shall be my portion if I will send Kamran 
and yourself as prisoners to the Persian camp." 

The man's air of distressful compulsion was inimit- 
able of its kind, and waked a gleam of amusement in 
Pottinger 's eyes. 

"An easy road to wealth and power," said he quietly. 
" I cannot answer for the king. But for myself there 
is no need of sending. Tell me your decision, and I go 
at once to the camp of my own accord." 

Yar Mahomed lifted hands and brows in amazement 
that may well have been genuine. " Great beyond 
thought is the nobility of the Sahib. But how should 
I, who am Afghan, so disregard the claims of salt and 
of kingship? Moreover" here came the true reason 
"the promise is doubtless empty, as all promises of 
Iran. Even could Mahomed Shah prevail upon me so to 
dishonour my country, small talk would there be of gifts : 


but of greater demands, rather, by reason of advantage 
gained. True talk, my friend? " 

"True enough. But in that case what answer shall 
you send? " 

" It was my thought to call a consultation of chiefs 
to-morrow and write according to their agreement " 

At this point came interruption in form of Yar 
Mahomed's closest allies, the Topshi-Bashi and Haji 
Feroz, Chief of the Eunuchs, eager for news; and Pot- 
tinger made good his chance of escape. He spent the 
rest of the evening in talk with his friend Been Mahomed, 
who swore roundly that the chiefs would oppose, to a 
man, the disgraceful demand of the Shah-in-Shah. 

And it was so. The consultation resulted in a straight- 
forward letter from the Wazir to the effect that "the 
Englishman is a stranger and a guest ; and in the present 
state of affairs the Afghans could not think of turning 
him out of the city; for if anything should happen to 
him it would be a lasting disgrace to the Afghan name/' 
In conclusion Yar Mahomed assured the Asylum of the 
Universe that he had no mind to join with England 
against Iran. But, driven to choose between fighting 
or surrender, he chose the first, from necessity, not from 
any childish expectation of aid from London ! 

Two days later Pottinger was bidden to the Wazir 's 
quarters that he might hear the result. Yar Mahomed 
was not alone. The Topshi-Bashi, Haji, Feroz and other 
heads of departments were gathered round him in anxious 
conference, and it needed but the touch of awkwardness 
in their greeting to assure Pottinger that the stone of 
stumbling had not been removed. 

"Well, Wazir Sahib," said he, without sign of per- 
turbation, "I am to go, then, after all? " 

" My friend, my friend ! Do you account me a man 


altogether without heart? " Yar Mahomed protested, 
italicizing the protest by the warmth of his embrace. 
" Have not your exertions on our behalf put the Afghans 
themselves to shame ? And now, behold, your reputation 
as warrior proven afresh by the importunity of Mahomed 
Shah in respect of your dismissal; he being willing to 
conduct you, in safety, whithersoever you may choose to 
go. These our envoys, astonished beyond measure, have 
returned saying they had believed Pottinger Sahib to be 
one man though dowered with the heart of a lion : but 
this urgency of Iran for his departure proveth him equal 
to an army ! " 

A murmur of approval from the chiefs confirmed the 
extravagant compliment, which Eldred Pottinger acknow- 
ledged with a simple inclination of the head. 

"For the sake of Herat," said he, " I would I were in 
truth equal to an army. As it is, I see myself but a 
stumbling-block in the way of peaceful settlement ; and 
I would have you clearly understand that my personal 
safety or convenience must not be considered beside the 
welfare of this city, or the interests of my own country. 
If either of these can be better served by my departure 
speak openly : and I will make haste to be gone." 

But there be limits even to Afghan ingratitude : and 
although Yar Mahomed would fain have dispensed with 
one whose presence put some slight check upon his own 
ways and wiles, he feared that the dismissal of the man 
who was known to have saved the city might leave a 
lasting stain upon his public character. Moreover, Persia 
could not be trusted, and Herat could not risk offending 
the British Government. Once more, therefore, diplo- 
matic excuses were returned on the plea that Pottinger 
was a guest : and there an end of negotiation for the 


But by now it had become dismally clear that surrender 
was simply a matter of time. None the less was Pot- 
tinger's unchanging word of counsel : " A little longer 
a little longer still," while yet his heart contracted at 
thought of all that such counsel implied. Not so Yar 
Mahomed. In the man's whole anatomy there seemed 
no nerve sensitive enough for shrinking ; though doubtless 
had any compelled him to endure the brutalities he meted 
out to others, the missing organ might have come to 
light. As it was, he heartily approved Pottinger's plan 
of temporizing on the chance that the Book of Fate might 
yet contain a word or two in their favour. Rumours of 
a relieving force from Turkestan inclined him the more 
toward a waiting game : while Pottinger however loth 
to encourage expectations that might prove false still 
hoped, with dogged persistence, for some promise of help 
from Lord Auckland that should put fresh heart into 
the besieged. 

Meantime their broken remnant of an army, whether 
active or idle, must be paid ; their citizens fed : and Yar 
Mahomed, almost at his wits' end, called a fresh assembly 
of chiefs to consider the desperate question of ways and 

It was believed that the Shah had a secret store of 
money, to which he would not confess ; while many, not 
without reason, suspected the Wazir of appropriating 
more than half the treasure he wrung from his victims. 
But neither conviction could be turned to practical 
account ; and after voluminous discussion the Topshi- 
Bashi advanced a proposal very much to the point. Said 
he : " Since the Shah will not give that which he hath, 
and none may force him, let me have leave to seize the 
person and property of whomsoever I will without inter- 
vention from any other chief in favour of his own ; and 


I agree to provide all army expenses for two months 
without fail." 

A unanimous shout greeted the drastic proposal. 
There and then the chiefs drew up a formal agreement, 
wherein they pledged themselves to non-interference on 
behalf of their own people. None, save the Englishman 
whose name was not upon the bond considered for 
a moment the renewal of brutalities involved. But since 
he had no counter-scheme in mind, it were futile to raise 
objections that would affect nothing save his own popu- 
larity a practical asset not lightly to be flung away. 
And the variable mercury of Afghan favour stood high 
at the moment ; as is shown by his comment under the 
same date : "They were, or appeared to be, well satisfied 
with me ; and the Wazir quoted my anxiety and efforts, 
as an example to those w r ho had their women and children 
to defend." 

Nor had it proved altogether fruitless, that same 
example of unfailing energy and courage ; not preached, 
but lived simply and unobtrusively, month after month 
before their eyes. Pottinger himself noted with surprise 
and delight the determined bearing of the chiefs at this 
fresh crisis, and their unanimous readiness to prolong 
the defence. In his own words : " With open breaches, 
trembling soldiery and a disaffected populace they deter- 
mined to stand to the last. How I wished to have the 
power of producing the money ! " 

Throughout the next two weeks that wish became the 
most insistent cry of his heart. For the fiendishly 
simple programme of the Topshi-Bashi carried out with 
unrelenting zeal proved an infallible recipe for pan- 
demonium. Even the invertebrate Herati rose up and 
clamoured for redress. An alarming increase of deaths 


from torture wrought incessant appeals to an assembly 
paralyzed by that written pledge not to interfere : till 
Pottinger, sick to the soul of horrors that money could 
check, resolved on an expedient bold as it was humane. 
He called upon all who possessed money or treasure to 
contribute what they could for the defence of their city, 
on the strength of his bare promise that those who so 
came forward should be repaid, at his recommendation, 
by the Government of India. 

The boldness and humanity of this step were alike 
characteristic of the man. Whether indeed a seemingly 
indifferent Government would repudiate or endorse it 
he could by no means tell. But at worst he had some 
small store of capital in Ireland and could rely on his 
great-hearted uncle for help in the fulfilment of a promise 
so given. The fact that this mere assurance sufficed for 
men born and nurtured in deceit, would seem to justify 
the Wazir's flattering assertion that the word of a British 
officer was as the word of God. Certain it is that Eldred 
Pottinger, on the strength of it, had the satisfaction 
of checking cruelty past the show of speech were it only 
for a time. 

But money came in slowly, and of troops from 
Turkestan or India the passing days brought no sign : 
only, at last, came the long-delayed letter from Lord 
Auckland that should crown their refusal to surrender 
with promise of speedy relief. Judge, then, the effect 
of its sugared emptiness upon men who had waited five 
months to know the result of their appeal. It was dated 
May 1st, and addressed to Shah Kamran of Herat. 

" After Compliments, 

" The confidence which your majesty has evinced to- 
wards me ... has at once gratified and affected me," 
wrote his Lordship's secretary, surely not without a covert 


smile. " May God grant that, by this time, the cloud 
of trouble be lifted from upon you. But the very diffi- 
culties of time and distance deprive me of the power of 
doing more than assuring you of the sincere sympathy 
which I feel for you, and of the happiness it would afford 
me to hear of your being in undisturbed enjoyment of 
your sovereignty. . . . The arrangement of affairs in 
this quarter has been confided by H.M. the Queen to 
Sir John McNeill, now on his way from Tehran. In him 
I have implicit confidence . . . and in conclusion I can 
only say that nothing would give me greater happiness, 
if opportunity should serve, than to afford you sub- 
stantial proof of the great value I set upon your friend- 
ship and of my desire to render you essential service." 

Unsatisfying diet this for men at grips with bare 
actuality. Even had the letter arrived in early June, 
the allusion to an Ambassador already discomfited would 
have savoured of polite satire. Now, in mid August, 
with a bested McNeill on his way back to Tehran, it 
came nearer to broad farce, had those who read been in 
the mood for enjoyment. 

At the moment, it seemed to Pottinger, that they 
accepted manfully, and without rancour, the complete 
collapse of their hopes. But next morning came a note 
bidding him to the Wazir's house: and, on arrival, he 
discovered a levee of chiefs in full progress. He was 
received with a coldness amounting to discourtesy : nor 
was any word addressed to him while the meeting lasted. 
Silent and impassive, for all the rising storm of anger 
within, Pottinger sat on, till the signal was given for 
leave to depart. Then, while hand-kissings and compli- 
ments were in progress he rose and came forward, the 
unmistakable spark of temper in his eyes. 

" Wazir Sahib," said he, "having come hither at your 

M 2 


express request I have a right to know why my presence 
was required, since you have nothing to communicate 
nothing to ask ? " 

Yar Mahomed, perceiving he had gone too far, smiled 
his most disarming smile. "It is not yet certain that I 
have no communication for you, my friend. Only at 
present there be difficulties " 

He would have edged past but for the swift detaining 
grasp upon his arm. " If there be difficulties the sooner 
we speak of them the better. Let these depart at once, 
that I may have speech of you in private. Only thus can 
we come at a clear understanding." 

Tone and bearing showed plainly that Pottinger was 
in no mood to be trifled with : nor was Yar Mahomed, 
despite his disappointment, in the mood for an open 
breach with Great Britain. 

A suave gesture signified acquiescence. The room was 
cleared; and the two became speedily engrossed in the 
one topic they could approach with anything like com- 
munity of interest. Pottinger's temper, hot though it 
was, could rarely hold its own against the Asiatic's in- 
sinuating plausibility, as he himself confessed in recording 
the interview. 

"Yar Mahomed," he wrote, "is one of the most per- 
suasive talkers I have met. It is scarcely possible to talk 
with him and retain anger. He is ready in a surprising 
degree . . . and a person who thinks nothing of denying 
what he has asserted a few minutes before is a most 
puzzling person to argue with. Until you have thought 
over what has been said, you cannot understand the 
changeable colours that have passed before you." And 
no doubt Yar Mahomed, on his side, found equally 
puzzling the Christian's clumsy inability to colour or 
manipulate facts in response to the call of the moment. 


To-day he had need of all his plausibility in justifying 
a return to the drastic methods his ally had so persistently 

" My friend, you must believe I regret, even as you 
do, the need for measures more compelling than promise 
of repayment," he urged with a fine show of reluctance. 
" Men will less readily trust that promise since the coming 
of your Burra Lett's letter : and money is life. I am, 
therefore, left without choice." 

"Wait, yet a little. That at least is possible," 
pleaded the more humane Englishman. " Help from 
Turkestan may be nearer than we know. Came there not 
word yesterday of a force near Toorbut? " 

" Ay, and the day before that of a British army having 
captured Shiraz. And three days before that of the 
Shah-in-Shah's preparation for fresh assault more skil- 
fully devised than that of June. Empty tales all empty 
as mine own coffers : and men need food more stomach- 
filling than the breath of lying newsmongers. Have we 
not already waited these three weeks? And hath there 
come to our ears any word savouring of truth ? Have w r e 
certain knowledge even of happenings in the camp 

And Pottinger, ruefully aware of the way wherein he 
was being led, could not choose but answer : "No." So 
complete was now their isolation from the world without : 
so poignant the ache of desolation in his own heart. 

" What, then, is left for us," persisted the plausible 
voice at his ear, " save surrender which Allah forbid ! 
or money more plentiful than your generous promise 
can draw from a parcel of ungenerous chiefs ? I tell you, 
Pottinger Sahib, all have money all ! Yet will they 
not even advance it much less give. Haji Feroz, arch- 
miser, could advance two lakhs without knowledge of 


loss, and Kamran himself could supply ten. Yet have 
neither contributed one broken cowrie ! And the rest are 
like unto them : thieves, misers all. When they behold 
their wives and daughters ravished by the Persians, then, 
maybe, they will repent. But now it is as if one shouted 
into a well. Can you wonder, my friend, if I put 
pressure on the people, since that alone brings result? " 

For a moment Pottinger sat silent, repelled alike by 
the man's tale and by the underlying implication of his 
own unlikeness to the rest. Then he asked quietly : "Is 
it by no means possible to put pressure on Shah 
Kamran? " 

" By one means only, Sahib. Though I, who know 
him, know also how much it would avail. This, however, 
we have resolved, since the coming of the Burra Lat's 
letter blighted all hope. We shall appoint a committee 
of finance, which shall make all things clear to Kamran, 
adding that either must he supply money for payment 
of the army, or give leave that the committee shall search 
for it and seize it after their own fashion. Can you doubt 
his answer ? The miser will sacrifice his people. It shall 
be seen." 

It was seen. Without shadow of hesitation the miser 
sacrificed his people ; and the wail of the tortured broke, 
yet again, upon unheeding ears. God, it seemed, had 
forgotten them ; and worse than vain was the help of 
man. As for Pottinger, that passing triumph in June 
shrank to a mere nothing in the face of his failure to 
stem the tide of lawless evil within the walls. 

Yet, in that darkest hour, dawn was already at hand. 

Not many days after Kamran 's despicable decision 
came news, at last, that bore some semblance of fact. 
The bearer, lately arrived from the camp, asserted, on 
oath, that Colonel Stoddart Sahib had returned there two 


weeks ago ; that a British navy had anchored in the 
Persian Gulf, taken several ports, and had landed at 
Bushire "a mighty army," now advancing on Shiraz. 
"For this reason came Colonel Stoddart Sahib, bringing 
word that his country intended war, unless the Most 
Illustrious departed without delay." 

That the Most Illustrious had succumbed to argument 
so forcible was proven by the packing of cannon and 
mortars, as for a march ; the assembling of carriage- 
cattle and destruction of the greater guns. Obvious 
exaggerations apart, these things might very well be. 
Herat's resolute refusal to surrender had allowed more 
than enough time for the awakening of Government. 
But suspense and all other miseries, over-long endured, 
robbed the news of that which it might have effected 
months ago. 

The chiefs were still incredulous : the people stunned 
almost to indifference : and Eldred Pottinger, dizzy with 
lack of food and sharp revulsion of feeling, sat alone in 
his quarters, asking himself mechanically, over and over : 
"Can it be true at last?' Can it be even partially 

BEFORE many days were out Herat had proof that for 
once the voice of Rumour had spoken approximate truth : 
approximate, because the Persian Gulf demonstration was 
an insignificant affair that had swelled in transit, like a 
snowball, till it grew into a victorious armament march- 
ing upon the camp of Mahomed Shah. 

As a matter of fact, two steamers and a few vessels of 
war had landed Bombay detachments and a marine bat- 
talion on the island of Karrak on the 19th of June. There 
had been no fighting. The little force was merely to 
hold itself in readiness for any service which Sir John 
McNeill might think necessary for " the maintenance of 
our interests in Persia." By the time the inflated reports 
of this unlooked-for move overtook Sir John he was well 
on his way back to Tehran; and the news would have 
availed him little had it not coincided with the advent 
of instructions from the Foreign Office, empowering him 
to threaten immediate hostilities unless Persia withdrew 
from Afghanistan. For him nothing could have been 
more opportune; and, true to his political conviction 
mistaken or no he determined on one more effort to 
relieve Herat from the miseries of investment. 

Hence the reappearance in camp of Colonel Stoddart, 
charged with a message of no uncertain tenor. The Shah, 
disheartened by months of failure, and startled by the 
report of advancing armaments, was ready enough by 
now to catch at any honourable pretext for retreat. 
Wherefore the British representative, formerly slighted, 




was received with all honour and accorded an immediate 
hearing. On the whole nothing could have better suited 
Mahomed Shah than the ultimatum of Sir John McNeill ; 
and after certain formal preliminaries designed to save 
the royal face his Mightiness declared himself willing to 
grant all demands sooner than forfeit the friendship of 
Great Britain. 

44 But for that," the baffled monarch added, with 
impressive conviction, " we would not return from before 
Herat; and had we known our coming would endanger 
such a friendship it is certain we should never have left 

Thereafter, retreat having been deftly covered, 
Mahomed Shah addressed himself, with leisurely dignity, 
to the uncongenial task of "climbing down." 

Throughout the early days of September the stir in the 
camp was continuous ; nor could the densest doubt its 
meaning. Danger from that quarter was over. The 
Herat siege one of the most memorable in Eastern 
history was at an end. 

Men in the street repeated the fact to one another 
merely as a fact, without surprise, without enthusiasm. 
In their hearts they knew too well that they had but 
escaped the Scylla of Persian rapine to fall into the 
Charybdis of a paternal Afghan government. "All I 
wonder," wrote Pottinger when recording the fact in 
his journal, " is that not a man can be found among them 
bold enough to terminate their miseries by the death of 
their oppressors." In the meantime all prisoners were 
returned to the Persian camp ; guns were limbered up, 
tents struck ; and on the night of September the 9th the 
Most Mighty himself, with the last detachment of his 
formidable army, rode forth into the landscape, baffled, 
but by no means without hope of return. 


Whether or no he recognized that failure was due as 
much to jealousy and lack of concert among his chiefs 
as to Herat's stubborn resistance, does not appear; for 
the simple reason that no shadow of that distressful word 
was permitted to blur the magniloquence of the royal 
firman " setting forth all the great results of his expedi- 
tion eastward." 

The Herat episode pruned of superfluoas verbosity 
was thus inimitably rounded off : " At last, when the city 
existed but in name . . . the noble ambassadors of the 
illustrious British Government notwithstanding three 
separate treaties of peace between the Governments of 
England and Persia despatched a naval armament, with 
troops and forces, to the Gulf of Persia. The winter 
season was now approaching, and** . . . there appeared a 
possibility that our victorious army might suffer from a 
scarcity of provisions; the tranquillity of our provinces 
was also a matter of serious attention to our benevolent 
thoughts : and thus, in sole consideration of the interests 
of our faith and country, and from a due regard to the 
welfare of our subjects, we set in motion our world- 
subduing army, and prepared to return to our capital. 
. . . During the protracted siege of Herat a vast number 
of the troops and inhabitants had perished . . . the 
remainder of the people . . . who had been treated with 
the most liberal kindness by the officers of our Govern- 
ment . . . marched away with us, with zealous eager- 
ness, and there was no vestige of an inhabited spot left 
around Herat." 

This last came nearer to the truth than the main part 
of Mahomed Shah's proclamation. In ten months a 
population of some sixty thousand had been reduced to 
one-tenth ; and the support of even that insignificant 
remainder was beyond the resources of a province for 


the moment utterly destroyed. It is recorded by an 
eye-witness that, in those ten months, the Persians had 
wrought such havoc and devastation as would scarce have 
resulted from fifty years of civil war. The beauty of that 
most fertile valley was clean gone, as though it had never 
been. Not fields and orchards merely, but scores of 
picturesque villages, gardens and tree-bordered esplan- 
ades had been wantonly destroyed ; while within the 
battered walls, ruin and desolation showed the more 
hideously that they were crowded into a narrower space* 
Bazaars, serais, public baths and private dwellings few 
had escaped mutilation; and many of those nearest the 
walls had been pulled down to repair breaches made by 
the enemies' guns. 

Well for Herat and for Eldred Pottinger had that 
been all. But this hapless city, satiate with the horrors 
of war, must now gird itself to endure the horrors of 
peace, whereof we are apt to hear far less ; though it is 
by no means certain that they are not the more degrad- 
ing, the more deeply corrosive to human life and char- 
acter. It was against these that Pottinger straightway 
set himself to contend with a spirit and vigour seemingly 
unimpaired by hardships already undergone. But the 
mass of labour thus thrown upon his shoulders was more 
than a second Hercules could have achieved unaided ; and, 
at Pottinger 's own request, Colonel Stoddart consented 
to join him on the departure of the Persian troops. He 
was under orders at the time to proceed upon a mission 
to Bokhara, with the double object of negotiating for the 
release of certain Russian captives and concluding a 
friendly treaty with the Amir. But, in the circumstances, 
he agreed to stay on until some measure of law and order 
should be restored. 

So these two solitary Englishmen settled down serenely 


enough in the midst of pestilence, tyranny and famine, 
undaunted by the hopeless nature of their new task; 
while Persia's all-conquering army melted into the hori- 
zon, and the siege of Herat was no longer a painful 
exigency, but an item of Asiatic history, significant or 
insignificant, according to the historian's political pro- 
fession of faith. 

Needless to review in detail the conflicting statements 
of these last in regard to Russia's underlying motive, or 
the vexed question whether the fall of Herat would or 
would not have endangered the safety of India to the 
extent feared by men of proven ability, both in England 
and the East. 

Perhaps, among them all, there are few opinions better 
worth considering than that of Sir Henry Rawlinson 
himself an ex- Afghan political of sound judgment, insight 
and first-hand knowledge. In his view Russia's desire 
was less toward invasion than toward the estrangement of 
England and Persia, whereby she hoped to strengthen 
her moral influence in the East, while keeping India con- 
stantly anxious, constantly prepared for that which might 
never come to pass. On the showing of her own states- 
men her Herat policy was of the order of Yar Mahomed : 
Heads I win ; tails you lose. If Herat had fallen, as was 
expected, Kabul and Kandahar would certainly have 
followed suit. Russo-Persian influence pushed, thus, to 
the threshold of India implied at best much internal 
agitation among native provinces and states ; at worst " a 
difficult and expensive war to avert more serious dangers." 
If, on the other hand, England interfered to save Herat, 
she was compromised, not merely with the court of 
Mahomed Shah, but with Persia as a nation. For 
" Russia had contrived to identify all Persia with the 
success or failure of the campaign." 


The question of England's very doubtful right to inter- 
fere at all has been amply discussed by authorities political 
and historical. Right or no right, the present record is 
mainly concerned with the fact that an unforeseen tangle 
of events conspired to keep Pottinger at Herat in the 
hour of her danger ; and but for his presence the Afghan 
heroes would undoubtedly have succumbed, or betrayed 
her to Persia, before three months were out. It is Sir 
Henry's belief that the ultimate fate of the city was 
decided not by the insignificant demonstration at Karrak, 
but by the gallantry of Eldred Pottinger on the 24th of 
June; that, in effect, she owed her independence to an 
adventurous, high-hearted subaltern, backed by the 
exertions of Sir John McNeill. 

Now that the events of those stormy years are seen in 
clearer proportion than nearness permits, it is difficult to 
realize the effect produced all through India by the news 
that a subaltern of artillery in Herat had overset all 
Mahomed Shah's calculations, broken up the ground under 
Dost Mahomed's feet, and " made the political situation 
in western Asia better for England than it had been at 
the time of Burnes' mission." 

By October it had reached Simla too late, unhappily, 
to do more than modify the warlike preparations already 
on foot. By November Lord Auckland was writing 
privately to Sir John Hobhouse : "I have appointed 
Lieut. Pottinger to be political agent at Herat, and 
have given him praise in the Gazette and a salary of 
1000 Rs. a month, with a recommendation to the Court 
that it date from the commencement of the siege. I 
hope this will not be thought extravagant. His chival- 
rous adventure, his admirable conduct and their extra 
ordinary results ought to be on record and upheld." 

That Gazette was read with a glow of pride by Colonel 


Henry Pottinger, Captain Ward (Eldred's former com- 
mandant) and three brothers stationed in different parts 
of the country. Not a whit less gratifying than the 
appointment itself was the tribute of praise that followed ; 
and Lord Auckland's " marked satisfaction in bestowing 
the high applause due to the signal merits of Lieutenant 
Pottinger, who . . . under circumstances of peculiar 
danger and difficulty, has, by his fortitude, ability and 
judgment, honourably sustained the reputation and 
interests of his country." 

From all sides congratulations flowed in, by letter and 
by word of mouth. But not until many weeks after the 
New Year had dawned did Eldred Pottinger himself 
awake to the knowledge that, in climbing the steeps of 
duty, with never a step of the road visible ahead, he had 
stumbled unwittingly upon the summit of fame and 
become the hero of the hour. 


I dreamed I was an husbandman, whom God sent into a 
dreary world. I toiled, breaking up the hard earth ; but the 
more I worked the tougher looked my plot. I was tired ; and 
when I saw that God watched me as I worked I said : " The toil 
is hard, but I shall see the fruit." God turned away, saying: 
" You shall not see the fruit." I cried aloud : " But there will 
be fruit, Lord ? " And God said : " For all your labour you 
get strength, not fruit. " And I, complaining : ' ' Lord, it were 
so much better to find wild flowers that might be trained to be 
more beautiful. But here are always thorns for me to eat." 
And God said : "If there were not thorns, I had here no need 
of such an husbandman as you." 

So, from the sally, each obeys 
The unseen, almighty nod ; 
So, till the ending, all their ways 

Blind-folded, loth, have trod : 
Nor knew their work at all, but were 
The tools of God. 

R. L. S. 

BUT the sustaining knowledge of appreciation and 
reward was still afar off : and throughout the interven- 
ing months many things were fated to be done and 
endured, not only by the two Englishmen and their 
famine-stricken remnant, but also by the newly-formed 
army of the Indus : one of the most long-suffering scape- 
goats of folly and iniquity, in high places, to be found 
in the annals of all time. 

The events which culminated in Lord Auckland's 
notorious Simla manifesto had been long a-brewing. As 
early as May the arrival of Simonich at Herat, of Vicko- 
vitch at Kabul and the failure of Burnes' mission had 
brought visions of war to the peace-loving Viceroy, and 
sowed in the fertile brains of his secretaries the seeds of 
their Great Design. 

Indiscreet and lacking in dignity as Burnes unquestion- 
ably was, yet in this case if left unhampered he would 
no doubt have secured the friendly allegiance of both 
Kabul and Kandahar. But unhappily, as has been seen, 
his opinions were constantly neutralized by Wade's 
plausible arguments or bold contradictions, with the result 
that Dost Mahomed was finally decreed to be a hostile 
chief ; " and," adds Kaye, " the policy of the Government 
soon made him one." 

As for Burnes, on reaching Simla in July he is said 

to have been greeted by Macnagh ten's fellow- secretaries, 

Colvin and Torrens, with an eager request that he would 

" say nothing to unsettle his lordship ; that they had had 

N 177 


all the trouble in the world to get him into the business, 
and even now he would be glad of any pretext to retire." 
But the baffled champion of Barakzai supremacy had 
already despatched his final protest in the shape of a long 
letter to Macnaghten propounding the best line of policy 
" under the circumstances, which a series of blunders 
have produced," and concluding with a paragraph very 
much to his credit : " It still remains to be reconsidered 
why we cannot act with Dost Mahomed Khan. He is a 
man of undoubted ability, and has, at heart, a high 
opinion of the British nation : and if half you must do 
for others were done for him he would abandon Persia 
and Russia to-morrow. It may be said that opportunity 
has been given him ; but ... at best he had a choice 
of difficulties, and it should not be forgotten that we 
promised nothing, while Russia and Persia offered a good 

It was not forgotten. It was suppressed. 

In the meantime, a few days in Simla sufficed to con- 
vince Burnes that crude theories and inflated ambition 
were destined to override all obstacles, not excluding the 
dictates of justice and national honour. He was quick, 
also, to perceive that the golden key to promotion and 
preferment was enthusiasm for the royal exile : and, being 
no Quixote but a mere man, eager above all things for 
place and power, he turned his back thenceforward on 
the lost cause of Dost Mahomed Khan. 

Having been duly warned not to unsettle his lordship, 
he was requested to state his views on the supreme topic 
of the hour : the which he did with a touch of his 
incurable exaggeration. 

"Self defence," said he, "is the first law of nature. 
If you cannot bring round Dost Mahomed, whom you 
have used infamously, you must set up Shah Shujah as 


a puppet, and establish your supremacy in Afghanistan 
or you will lose India! " 

The same trick of sacrificing accuracy to an effective air 
of omniscience, prompted the further assertion that the 
British Government need only send Shah Shujah to 
Peshawar, " with an agent and two of its own regiments 
as honorary escort, and an avowal to the Afghans that 
we have taken up his cause, to ensure his being fixed for 
ever on the throne." 

Before two years were out the fallacy of this daring 
overstatement had been proved up to the hilt. But, 
throughout that eventful summer, no prevision of tragic 
issues clouded the sanguine temper of Alexander Burnes 
or the airy visions of William Macnaghten ; though both 
men were enthusiastically occupied in digging their own 

When Burnes reached Simla, Macnaghten was still at 
the court of Ranjit Singh remodelling a former treaty, 
whereby it was now agreed that the Maharajah and the 
British Government should heartily co-operate in the 
thankless task of restoring Shah Shujah, the Undesired, to 
the throne of his very few ancestors. British co-operation 
was to take the form of providing officers for troops levied 
by the Shah, and, incidentally, of establishing an agent 
at Kabul. British bayonets were not to figure in the 
final tableau. On this point the Shah laid explicit 
emphasis, and all was amicably arranged. But Mac- 
naghten had yet to reckon with " Bokhara Burnes," who 
dismissed the concession to Afghan vanity with high- 
handed assurance. "We must appear directly," was his 
dictum. "The Afghans are a superstitious people and 
believe Shah Shujah to have no fortune. But our name 
will invest him with it," a not-unwarrantable supposition, 
though events failed to bear it out. 

N 2 


In justice to Captain Wade whose letters were garbled 
almost as shamelessly as those of Burnes it should be 
recorded that his vote in favour of Shah Shu j ah was 
qualified by one notable proviso : that the Shah's " recog- 
nition could only be justified or demanded of us " if 
Herat should fall into the hands of Persia. Had that 
reasonable "if" been regarded the result of Eldred 
Pottinger's chivalrous adventure would have been memor- 
able indeed ! But qualifications, however reasonable, did 
not find favour with the Simla Cabinet of 1838. In their 
eyes the Great Design was its own justification ; and 
although the relief of Herat was put forward as its 
ostensible aim, their ultimate actions gave the lie to their 

In regard to the vexed question of responsibility the 
earliest despatches of the period almost suggest a " com- 
petition between London and Simla for the discredit of 
initiating the ill-starred project " : and as for the crop of 
complications that ensued, the most omniscient could 
scarcely venture a definite indictment; so complex were 
the influences, motives and prejudices involved; so 
strangely malign were the ironies of circumstance. 
Wherever the wrong choice or the wrong decision could 
be made, so surely it was made, with dismal iteration. 
Wherever the situation demanded cool judgment or 
delay, there did hot-headed impulse rush blindly in. 
Wherever the need of the hour was for prompt and 
vigorous action, so surely was it paralyzed by discussion 
and delay. Some half-a-dozen names at least stand out 
with unenviable distinctness, and perhaps among them 
all was none more eager, more blindly optimistic than 
William Macnaghten, brave gentleman and brilliant 
scholar ; but unstable of judgment, and more experienced 
in irresponsible office than in direct dealings with men. 


But the project held out promise of distinction, and pos- 
sibly of high office ; and from first to last he could not, 
or would not, perceive that it was " a mistake in policy, 
and in morality a crime." 

And what of the harassed Governor-General ? The 
man who, three years earlier, had rejoiced at the prospect 
of "improving the administration of justice in India," 
and had met Dost Mahomed's appeal for help with the 
reminder that it was not the habit of his Government 
"to interfere with the affairs of other independent 
states " ; the " safe man " chosen by the Whigs to oust 
an already-appointed nobleman of high character and 
approved diplomatic skill what of him ? 

Even as a General is held responsible for the doings 
of his troops, so must Lord Auckland be held responsible 
for that which he permitted, whether or no he was coerced 
into consent. Between mutilated letters and suppressed 
despatches his actual share in the project will never 
rightly be known; but that he assumed the full re- 
sponsibility his own letters to the Indian House give 
proof. On May the 22nd he sent home word of the 
failure at Kabul and the probability of war. In August 
followed a detailed account of his policy, capped by 
the amazing conclusion that " of the justice of the course 
about to be pursued, there cannot exist a reasonable 

It has been said with truth that the only parallel to 
this peculiar view of justice was the attempt of Louis XIV 
to oust William of Orange in favour of James Stuart. 
Yet such is human inconsistency a Liberal English 
Cabinet warmly approved the plan. 

In August, also, the troops chosen by the Commander- 
in-Chief were warned for service. Burnes* airy sugges- 
tion of a " regiment or two " did not commend itself to 


the soldierly temper of Sir Henry Fane. He flatly dis- 
approved of the manufactured quarrel ; but, being in, he 
would have his country bear it that the opposer should 
beware of her. Half measures were not for him. More- 
over, how should a couple of regiments relieve or recap- 
ture Herat, whose fate was not yet known ? An awkward 
question, that ; for, at heart, the Man of Peace was by 
no means prepared for the costly hazard of a trans-Indus 
war. But the Commander-in-Chief was adamant; the 
Simla Cabinet chorussed approval, and, after several weeks 
of indeterminate swaying, Lord Auckland succumbed to 
the lot of him who hesitates. 

On September the 9th Mahomed Shah had turned his 
back upon Herat. On September the 13th an order was 
issued for the assembling of an army that numbered, 
eventually, twenty-five thousand men, with Sir Henry 
Fane in supreme command. Already, from cantonment 
to cantoment, a whisper of war had been carried by 
Rumour, the swift-footed; and now at every mess-table 
and race-meeting, and wherever Anglo-Indians fore- 
gathered, one topic was in the mouths of men, one un- 
spoken fear lay chill at the hearts of women. War; 
service ; to the true soldier there is magic in the words ; 
the more so when their sound goes forth after eleven 
years of peace. Since the storming and capture of Bhurt- 
pore, in 1827, there had been no such stir and prepara- 
tion in the land ; but to the credit of the officers be it 
said, that, for all their thrill of action and eagerness to 
explore an unknown country, there was scarce one among 
them who did not wish he were to draw sword in more 
honest cause. 

So much for the army. But the Great Design was, 
before all things, a political affair ; demanding a civil 
agent, "to direct the mind of the Shah " and the general 


outline military operations excepted of the great 

The king's son, with a small native force and fifteen 
thousand Sikhs, was to march up through the Punjab via 
Peshawar. But the shrewd old Maharajah did not seem 
to relish the idea that his allies should march a full- 
fledged army through his dominions, and the larger force, 
escorting Shah Shujah, must needs enter Afghanistan by 
the Indus route via Quetta and Kandahar. It had been 
decreed that a British envoy accompany each party, and 
the shepherding of the Punjab force fell naturally to 
Captain Wade, translated into Lieut .-Colonel for the sake 
of prestige. The choice of an envoy, who should act as 
right hand to the Royal Pretender, was a matter of far 
greater moment. 

That Burnes regarded the post as virtually his own is 
proved by a letter written from Simla in July : " We are 
now planning a grand campaign. . . . What exact part 
/ am to play I know not ; but if ... hourly consulta- 
tion be any pledge, I am to be chief. I can tell them 
plainly it is aut Csesar, aut nullus ; and if I get not what 
I have a right to, you will soon see me en route for 
England." But Lord Auckland, not without cause, mis- 
trusted the discretion of this curiously volatile Scot, and 
a month later, behold " Cassar " ruefully preparing not 
to leave India, but to "take a lower room." 

" I believe the chief and Macnaghten will be made a 
commission ; Wade and myself political agents under 
them," he wrote to a friend. "I plainly told Lord 
Auckland this does not please ; . . . and he pledged 
himself to leave me independent quickly and in the highest 
appointment. What can I do when he tells me I am a 
man he cannot spare? " But his disappointment was 
keen and his vanity chafed under the arrangement, even 


though he reflected, by way of consolation, that it were 
preferable Dost Mahomed should be ousted by another 
hand than his own. 

Macnaghten, it appears, had proposed himself, and 
his claim to carry out his own cherished policy can scarce 
be denied. None the less, to unbiassed observers it 
seemed certain that the Governor-General's choice would 
fall upon Colonel Henry Pottinger. His clear head, un- 
compromising character and knowledge of the country 
-stamped him as pre-eminently the man for so high and 
responsible a post ; nor was Lord Auckland blind to his 
obvious qualifications. But he had no intimate know- 
ledge of Pottinger, and their opinions had a tendency to 
clash ; moreover, the man who frankly sets principle 
before expedient very rarely basks in official favour. Mac- 
naghten, on the other hand, was a personal friend with 
whom he had fully discussed his political views, and " who 
would not scruple to carry them out to the utmost." To 
what lengths a word so unlimited might be stretched 
neither of them could be expected to foresee. India's 
guardian angel was sleeping or on a journey in those days, 
and William Macnaghten was duly gazetted, " Envoy and 
Minister on the part of the Government of India at the 
Court of Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk," while Burnes figured in 
the same document as " Envoy of the Chief of Kelat and 
other states " under Macnaghten 's directions ; a bitter 
pill this last. 

Impossible to avoid the thought that, had Henry 
Pottinger been given his due, England might have been 
spared that discreditable chapter of history commonly 
known as "the Afghanistan blunder." For William 
Macnaghten knew little of men, less of Asiatic intrigue, 
and nothing of Afghanistan or its people. Worse than 
all, he was a man of books not a man of action. His 


tragic failure is but one outstanding proof, among scores, 
that the examination paper is not the true test of fitness 
for Indian service ; or, indeed, for any service demanding, 
before all things, character, sense of responsibility and 
capacity for action. 

As early as 1879 men who knew the country and its 
needs noted with apprehension the advent of the " com- 
petition wallah " ; fearing lest he abolish the fine old 
tradition of whole families devoted to her service. In 
that very summer of '38 India boasted four Lawrences, 
three Conollys, three Broadfoots and half-a-dozen Pot- 
tingers, to say nothing of other remarkable family groups, 
many among whom would have been ignominiously 
"spun " by the Civil Service Commissioners. Clive him- 
self would, without question, have shared the same fate. 
Yet was he the " heaven-born General " who founded our 
Indian Empire; while the amiable and accomplished 
Macnaghten, winner of countless University prizes, went 
near to wrecking the Empire founded by a born leader of 

But none had leisure to doubt the issue when every 
cantonment was astir with preparation for the grand 
military promenade at the frontier station of Ferozepore, 
where the new-made allies would meet, and metaphorically 
embrace, before launching their righteous protest against 
Persia's unjustifiable aggression "and the hostile policy " 
of a chief whom, between them, they had driven into her 

Remained only, to crown all, that notorious Simla 
manifesto, wherein, as has been truly said, "the views 
and conduct of Dost Mahomed Khan were misrepresented 
with a hardihood which a Russian statesman might have 
envied," while the words " justice and necessity ; the terms 
frontier and . . . national defence were applied in a 


manner for which there is fortunately no precedent in the 
English language." And for the credit of the British 
Raj it may be added that Lord Auckland's fashion of 
applying them still stands alone. 

"In that remarkable document," writes Captain 
Trotter, " Dost Mahomed was charged with making ' a 
sudden and unprovoked attack ' upon our ancient ally 
Ranjit Singh ; with * urging the most unreasonable pre- 
tensions ' to Peshawar ; with forming schemes of 
' aggrandizement and ambition injurious to the security 
and peace of the frontiers of India ' as if Peshawar were 
then our frontier ! . . . Wherefore the Governor-General 
had determined to espouse the cause of Shah Shujah, whose 
popularity in his own country had been clearly proved, 
and whose power would now be supported ' against 
foreign interference and factious opposition by a British 

" The spirit of truth had little part in the framing of 
a document which began by stating that Lord Auckland 
had, ' with the concurrence of the Supreme Council,' 
ordered the assembling of a British force for service 
across the Indus. In point of fact the Supreme Council 
had just sent home a formal protest against a measure on 
which their opinion had never been recorded." 

By early November all India knew that at least one 
object of the expedition had been attained, its one doubt- 
ful justification swept clean away. But so assiduously 
had the poison of prejudice and of Russophobia been 
instilled into Lord Auckland's mind, that he believed 
himself bound to persevere with an expedition unani- 
mously denounced by India's oldest and wisest politicians : 
Wellesley, Metcalfe, and Mountstuart Elphinstone, not 
to mention the Court of Directors and the Great Duke 


Hard to believe that in 1837 the new Governor-General 
had waxed irate when Burnes suggested consolidating 
Afghanistan under the Dost, and had declared that, 
across the Indus, Government would countenance no 
king. Yet behold him, a year later, deliberately prepar- 
ing to fling away good money and valuable lives in the 
hope of establishing two Shah Shujah and Shah Kamran. 


" Do you believe His Puppetship has the smallest in- 
tention of issuing that fiat against promiscuous tyranny? 
And if he did do you believe our Asiatic Napoleon would 
obey? " 

The speaker was Charles Stoddart. Restlessly pacing 
their mud- walled living room in Pottinger 's quarters, he 
paused and flung the question at his companion. 

Pottinger, seated at the writing-table, looked up with 
a rueful smile. "No," said he quietly. "I have lived 
more than a year in Herat; and I believe neither." 

" Then we must simply insist, and re-insist, ad 
infinitum ? " 

"My dear fellow what else? Unless we steadily set 
our faces against tyranny, injustice and slavery, our 
presence here would be worse than a farce. It would 
be a flat denial of our faith, to say nothing of common 

Stoddart acquiesced in silence. The broken lines of 
an irascible temper deepened between his brows. 

" Damn that plausible scoundrel ! " was his next con- 
tribution to the discussion. " Insisting, on principle, is 
all very fine. But the question remains can we hope to 
establish any semblance of law and order in this pesti- 
lential hole, except over the corpse of our noble ally 
Yar Mahomed Khan? " 

Said Pottinger, with his air of unperturbed detach- 
ment : "Frankly I think not." 

"Then I wish to God I could get leave to shoot the 
devil out of hand I " 



At that, Eldred Pottinger 's rare smile flashed out. 
" Not you, my dear fellow. That privilege would be 
mine! I've been tempted to take it, leave or no leave, 
a score of times before now. But, after all, raging 
against the man is sheer waste of energy that might be 
more profitably employed. And, as for the outcome 
these people have a good saying : ' The work is with us ; 
the event is with Allah.' Now, if you let me be for ten 
minutes, I can finish this letter to Government. We 
are over-due at the Citadel ; and I am anxious to find 
out how far the king has attempted to keep his word." 

Colonel Stoddart glanced amusedly at the thin, closely- 
written sheet. "I don't envy you," said he, "attempt- 
ing to put the tale of our doings coherently on to paper ! " 

And Pottinger, with grave conviction: "I don't envy 
the man who has to read the result! Coherence is be- 
yond me; but I do my best to give them the truth, so 
far as I can make it out." 

" That's the hardest job of all ! I won't hinder you 
any more. When you are ready, let me know." 

Left alone, Pottinger passed a hand across his eyes ; 
for he was weary in body and spirit. Then, with a sigh, 
he once more took up his pen at all times an unready 
weapon to this man, whose genius was genius of character, 
and his sole means of self-revealing action. But what- 
ever Pottinger was called upon to do, he did with his 
might. His letters to Government during that disheart- 
ening year, are marvels of copious, if somewhat chaotic, 
information : and Calcutta secretaries, too ignorant of 
the country to read between the lines, may well be excused 
if his involved phrases and hazy punctuation gave them, 
at times, a misleading idea of the writer and of the work 
he was so zealously striving to do. Worse than all 
action itself seemed like to be stultified at every turn, by 


the one man who could if he would ensure the success 
of their attempts to renew the shattered city out of its 
own ashes. Yet, on this 14th morning of October, 
Eldred Pottinger could look back on five weeks of effort 
not altogether barren of result. 

On the day that Colonel Stoddart joined him, they 
had sent criers round the city at Kamran 's request 
announcing that Herat was now under British protection ; 
that, for one year, the ruined citizens should be free from 
the burden of taxation ; that seed and corn would be 
provided for the barren fields ; while shop-keepers and 
cultivators would be encouraged to start afresh by grants 
of money repayable in three years. The loss of revenue 
to Kamran was to be balanced by a loan from the British 
Government, also repayable in three years. 

So far well enough. Yar Mahomed had no quarrel 
with British beneficence that put good rupees into the 
public coffers, and served to check the flight of despair- 
ing Heratis, many of whom had sold themselves as slaves 
to get quit of Afghan tyranny and provide food for their 
families. But when he found himself expected, in return, 
to refrain from extortion, slave-dealing and terrorism, 
he began to take counsel with his heart as to w r hether 
the benevolence of these smooth-tongued unbelievers 
might not cloak an influence too powerful to suit his own 
private schemes of self-aggrandizement. From the day 
when he decided that it was so, the situation resolved 
itself into a prolonged duel now covert, now fiercely 
manifest with Pottinger and himself for principals, and 
for seconds, Colonel Stoddart and Shah Kamran. 

Thus : upon Pottinger 's request that the police be re- 
established, a proclamation was issued with engaging 
promptness ; and next morning a soldier of the Wazir's 
household was arrested for aggravated extortion and 


assault. His friends failing to recognize the link be- 
tween a mere proclamation and wanton interference with 
a man's normal habits set upon the hapless policeman, 
and, save for the intervention of two Syuds, would have 
doctored his superfluous zeal with correctives peculiarly 
their own. 

Pottinger protested, on behalf of his Government, and 
straightway set up a primitive court of appeal at the 
Pae-i-Takht : literally The Foot of the Throne, actually 
a public place of justice or the reverse. Here he 
announced, before the assembled chiefs and people, that 
he, as representative of the British Government, guaran- 
teed the maintenance of justice and the abolition of 
slavery throughout the province of Herat. And here he 
came daily, with Colonel Stoddart and a friendly Mullah, 
whose holiness gave greater weight to the proceedings. 
Even so inadequate a check on violence and crime had a 
moral effect ; and the people who thronged in gratitude 
to Pottinger 's house, departed thence with renewed assur- 
ance that the British Government would uphold justice 
in the land. 

When these words reached the ears of Yar Mahomed 
Khan, he resolved the more firmly in his heart that a 
Government thus minded should never become paramount 
in Herat. So long as money flowed in plenty, just so 
long would he suffer the intrusion of her officers. Then 
pfdhl he would spue them out of his mouth as a man 
spues out the stone of a peach when juice and flesh are 

Meanwhile he bided his next excuse for reasserting 
his own pre-eminence. Nor was an occasion far to seek. 
The licence and rapine of his own soldiery soon drove 
Pottinger to proclaim that the British Government after 
rewarding all who had served through the siege would 


recognize no troops but those of the Shah, in whose 
service all volunteers could be enrolled. By arrange- 
ment, also, with his good friends the Hindu merchants, 
he had redeemed the Crown jewels and secured an advance 
of money sufficient to relieve the most distressful cases 
and revive, in a measure, the fallen status of the king's 

Here were excuses enough and to spare. Ignorant of 
the means at Pottinger's command, the Wazir's faction 
argued that Sahibs who redeemed jewels, paid the king's 
servants and gave the children's food to the dogs, must 
possess treasure in plenty : and since none came their 
way, they determined to help themselves. Hence renewed 
outbursts of violence, and a public declaration by Yar 
Mahomed of an immediate return to his old tyrannic 
methods of shepherding the people of Herat. It was 
this last that had impelled the two officers to draw from 
Shah Kamran the promise of a counter-declaration to be 
issued by his Chief of Eunuchs, Haji Feroz Khan. But 
Pottinger knew enough, by now, of Afghan promises to 
trust nothing short of the accomplished fact. 

That it was not accomplished, nor like to be, he dis- 
covered speedily enough. 

Arrived at the Citadel, they were met in the bare, 
unimposing Hall of Audience, by those kindred spirits 
of evil, Haji Feroz and Yar Mahomed Khan, the last 
attended by a crowd of armed retainers, without whom 
he never set foot outside his own door. He greeted his 
allies with studied coldness. But the eunuch preferring 
always the pose of peacemaker fervently besought his 
friends to purge their hearts once for all of distrust and 
dissension, altogether unnatural between those who had 
worked together so hard and so long. 

"The Wazir Sahib," he concluded, with an ingratiat- 


ing gesture, "is of one mind with me in this matter. 
Is it not so, my friend? " 

Thus appealed to, Yar Mahomed displayed his un- 
sightly teeth without changing the expression of his eyes. 
" The Haji speaks truth, as always. And surely, my 
friend, your understanding heart can make allowance for 
my difficulties. Do I not grieve, also, at the plight of 
my people? Yet my troops demand payment. My 
retainers must be clothed and fed. Give me only a 
written promise from your Government to pay this State 
five lakhs of rupees" (50,000) "in compensation for 
loss of one year's revenue, and I will abolish every tax and 
duty as you desire." 

Pottinger suppressed a smile at the barefaced demand 
of one year's revenue multiplied by five. " I have said 
already that my Government is willing to make good your 
loss," he answered, with quiet emphasis on the last words, 
" provided you forgo all taxes and publicly annul your 
declaration that tyranny should be your weapon, to be 
wielded as you chose." 

"So be it. That is a fair bargain, as between friends. 
To-day I will command the officers of justice that they 
make an end of extorting taxes by violence. So long 
as I can get money elsewhere so long the people shall 
rest in peace." 

Upon that assurance Pottinger took his leave ; marvel- 
ling inwardly how long this surprising access of virtue 
would endure. 

He was not left many hours in doubt. 

No orders were given to the officers of justice. The 
paper drawn up by him and sent to Haji Feroz was not 
returned with the Minister's signature. Instead came 
the significant news that taxes were being levied by Shere 
Mahomed, armed with the King's firman, and that the 


Wazir had suddenly withdrawn his own contribution to 
the city police, thereby reducing a force, already insig- 
nificant, to the paltry number of twenty-five men. Pot- 
tinger, sick to the soul of vain remonstrance, looked for 
some sort of explanation. None was forthcoming : and 
anxious always to avoid needless friction, he said no word. 

Two days later a provision Khafila reassured by his 
promises of good treatment ventured into Herat, and 
was so flagrantly mulcted at the city gate, that its owners 
thronged to the British agent's quarters overwhelming 
him with remonstrance and reproach. 

" A fine lot of use tweaking the devil's tail, w r hen we 
are powerless to cut his claws ! " cried Stoddart the 
irascible. " Better send for him and confront him with 
these fellows " 

A familiar voice sounded without. 

66 Talk of the devil ! " said Pottinger, with a wry smile ; 
and Yar Mahomed entered on the words. 

" This is shameful conduct, Wazir Sahib," the English- 
man greeted him sternly : and he, with fluent readiness 

" Shameful, indeed, my friend, that such things be 
done without authority, blackening my good name after 
promises given." 

At that, Pottinger pensively caressed his beard, and 
Stoddart, muttering inarticulate curses, swung out of the 

Yar Mahomed glanced after him, the glint of steel 
in his eyes. But although the arrogant temper of the 
Englishman waked his worst passions and galled him at 
every turn, he knew the value of biding his time, the 
better to strike home when the acceptable moment 
arrived. Without a word of comment he issued peremp- 
tory orders that men be sent to recover all imposts levied 
on the Kliflfila, and restore all promises to pay. 


That done he confronted Pottinger with a fine assump- 
tion of magnanimity. " Have I satisfied you now, my 

Pottinger regarded him with disconcerting directness. 
"For the present yes," said he. "For the future it 
might be well to keep a stricter check upon your fol- 
lowers, remembering that my guarantees of justice and 
good faith were given at the Shah's express desire. 
There was also a certain paper sent by me to Haji 
Feroz " 

"A paper? Wah-illah I I must rebuke the Haji for 
negligence of duty. To-morrow that matter shall be 
settled between us ; and upon his Majesty's consenting, 
the paper shall be signed without delay. At ten o'clock 
I will meet you and Colonel Stoddart Sahib at the Citadel. 
It is agreed? " 

"It is agreed," answered Pottinger. "On the stroke 
of the hour we will be there." 

True to promise, at ten next morning the two British 
officers entered the Hall of Audience. 

It was empty. 

"I'll lay you long odds he won't turn up," said 

"He will," said Pottinger; and they sat them down, 
Afghan-fashion, on a couple of mats to wait upon the 
good pleasure of Yar Mahomed Khan. 

The minutes slipped on to half-an-hour ; to an hour ; 
to an hour and three quarters. Still no sign of the 
Wazir ; and Stoddart long since bankrupt of patience 
sprang to his feet. 

" Damn the fellow's impertinence ! Why should we 
stay kicking our heels here any longer? " 

Pottinger thrust out his lower lip ; a trick that empha- 
o 2 


sized his resolute aspect. " I have said I will meet him 
here. I shall stay till he comes. There is only one rule 
in dealing with that sort of scoundrel. Give him no 
handle against you and keep a straight path." 

" Quite so. But is any good ever coming out of it 
all? It's an impossible game you're playing " 

Pottinger sighed. " I begin to be afraid it is. But 
until his lordship and Mr. Macnaghten are convinced 
of that fact, I can only play it to the best of my power. 
Ah the Wazir " 

Both men rose to their feet as Yar Mahomed swaggered 
into the hall at the head of a retinue more imposing by 
far than that of the King. 

" Aha, Pottinger Sahib ! " he cried, and waved his 
hand with a jaunty air of bonhommie more exasperating 
than open antagonism. Then, without apology or excuse, 
he plunged into a lively account of a street disturbance 
that had entertained them by the way. 

Pottinger listened patiently for five minutes ; then : 
66 We have not waited here two hours, Wazir Sahib, in 
order to talk street gossip," he remarked, with incisive 
quietness. " You may remember we came on business at 
your request; and if you have the leisure " 

Yar Mahomed scowled. "Leisure! Oh yes. Very 
well, let us go on. That paper you spoke of I have 
considered it. In my opinion there is only one answer to 
be given. First, I demand from your Government 
promise of a year's revenue, then I give you mine in 
exchange. Believe me, Pottinger Sahib, there is no other 
way but this to give my people relief. Pay me, or 
promise me in writing, five lakhs of rupees, and you will 
hear no more of tyranny and extortion." 

Pottinger shook his head. "Trees are wont to bud 
before they bear fruit," said he; "'and, since the siege 


ended, I have looked in vain for buds. In any case I 
would refuse to dishonour my Government by bargaining 
with tyranny, and thus admitting its equal rights. I tell 
you plainly, Wazir Sahib, that your conduct, in this 
matter, leaves me no choice but to demand a firman from 
the King forbidding extortion against his orders ; and to 
warn you that my Government will hold you responsible for 
robbing and torturing those whom it is your duty to help." 

At that, with a cryptic grunt, the Wazir swung round 
upon his heel, and was confronted by a message summon- 
ing them to the Royal presence. 

"Aha! Now it shall be seen which of us two his 
Majesty will uphold," cried he, and swaggered off with- 
out waiting, as usual, for Pottinger to precede him. 

Stoddart turned to his friend. " Stand up to them, 
man. It looks like breakers ahead. But the affair's no 
business of mine, and I am better out of the way." 

Pottinger nodded and passed on, his jaw set, his blood 
tingling at the studied insult. It was the prelude merely, 
as Stoddart had foreseen. 

When Pottinger presented himself, the Wazir was 
already in possession of the field. Kamran acknowledged 
the British agent's salute ; no more : and for a full half- 
hour Pottinger quietly stood his ground while the two 
Afghans carried on their talk as though none other were 
present. But that one of the two was King, and the 
interests of his own Government were at stake, he would 
have left them without a word. As it was, he took 
advantage of a pause to draw nearer and salute again. 

" May it please your Majesty, I am here by appoint- 
ment with Yar Mahomed Khan to settle an affair of some 

Kamran regarded him a moment with indolent surprise ; 
then turned again to the Wazir. 


" What is this affair of which he speaks, my friend? " 

Yar Mahomed shrugged his shoulders, and spread out 
his hands. " Merely some fresh disturbance he is making, 
because he would have me sign a paper promising to make 
an end of taxes, and I have refused to do this without 
the King's order." 

Kamran Shah drew himself up with an abortive attempt 
at dignity. " You did well. And what is this talk of 
a paper, Pottinger Sahib ? Have not I myself said that 
unjust extortions shall cease? " 

"From your Majesty I ask no more. But if Yar 
Mahomed Khan would save his own face and retain British 
friendship, he must retract in writing his public declara- 
tion to tyrannize, even in defiance of your Majesty's 
order " 


Bismillah! " Yar Mahomed swung round with the 
snarl of a trapped wolf. " Hear how this fellow maligns 
me out of his own evil heart " 

But Pottinger perceiving the man's design to goad 
him into anger quietly continued his statement to the 
King ; patiently reiterating the willingness of his Govern- 
ment to advance a year's revenue on condition that taxes 
be not impressed nor the sum advanced be spent without 
regard for Lord Auckland's advice. 

" Wah wah ! Fine conditions !" sneered Yar Mahomed, 
casting up his eyes. " These be lords of creation indeed ! 
Professing to win a country by friendship, while putting 
the King himself in leading-strings! " 

" Will your Highness be pleased to grant me a fair 
hearing or no? " Pottinger demanded, smothered im- 
patience in his tone. 

But the Wazir's well-aimed shaft had pricked the one 
sensitive spot in Kamran 's anatomy. 

" Why should I give hearing when I am ill and you 


speak words without sense ? The Wazir knows my heart, 
and his wishes are mine. As for your talk of money 
and conditions there has been no time yet for instruc- 
tions to arrive. You are speaking mere inventions 
without authority of your Government." 

But Pottinger had endured enough. " If your High- 
ness really believes t/iat," he broke in hotly, " you have 
but to repeat it, and I leave the citadel at once ; nor will 
I ever return to trouble you again." 

The man would have been as good as his word ; and 
Shah Kamran knew it. Fearful as he was of Yar 
Mahomed, he held in greater awe that colossal abstrac- 
tion the British Government, whose good rupees alone 
could restore his shattered city. Awkwardly, and still 
irritably, he blurted out an attempt at apology ; muttered 
of eternal gratitude to the saviour of Herat, and finally 
reverted, as always, to the paramount subject of his own 

" Of what use to send flannel and dewai for my ail- 
ments one day and another day bring me into a fever like 
this? Here " he put out a shaking hand " I will look 
at those papers." 

But Yar Mahomed, startled by so unexpected a con- 
cession, hastily interposed. "Why endanger your 
Majesty's health to no purpose? And why should we be 
plagued with papers while asking none of this fellow in 
return ? What assurance is ours that, having secured 
my signature, he will be able to produce the money at 
all ? " 

It was a cunning suggestion, and Kamran pounced 
upon it with avidity. " True talk. What assurance 
have we ? Bring the money here to-morrow. Then it 
shall be seen." 

" Your Highness knows quite well that is impossible," 


answered Pottinger, battling with a mad impulse to fly 
at the throat of Yar Mahomed Khan. 

" Plague me no more, then, with papers and promises," 
thundered the royal invalid ; and the next instant sank 
back among his cushions, his pock-marked face livid with 
unfeigned exhaustion. "You see! Leave me. I am 
too ill for further talk. But by ali the names of God, 
I will commit what tyranny I choose, and levy taxes by 
every means in my power until the day you bring me 
that money in full." 

For answer, Eldred Pottinger saluted. " Your Majesty 
has spoken. It is enough," said he; and straightway 
departed, " unconquering, yet unconquered," as the 
sequel proved. 


ALL too soon the results of that brief talk at the 
citadel descended upon the long-suffering people of 

Timidly, tentatively encouraged by Pottinger's zeal 
for their welfare they had begun feeling their way 
towards a more normal fashion of life. Shattered houses 
and shops were being gradually repaired. With the help 
of money advanced by Pottinger, in the name of his 
Government, merchants once more sat hopefully among 
grain-bags and bales ; and the sinister traffic of the slave- 
dealer had been scotched at least, though not killed. 
Men breathed more freely. Women and children more 
readily ventured abroad. But now in the flicker of an 
eyelid and without visible cause all was changed. 

On the 20th the British officers had gone up to the 
citadel. On the 21st the word went forth. Taxes were 
to be levied as aforetime; gate-tolls enforced upon all 
caravans; and the town duties were again cried aloud at 
the Pae-i-Takht. Within a day or two, siege prices pre- 
vailed ; panic bewilderment paralyzed trade activity and 
renewed the general exodus of citizens fleeing blindly 
from the wrath to come. 

The uphill work of five weeks seemed clean wiped out 
in as many days. Tyranny and Yar Mahomed Khan held 
the field ; the latter ably seconded by Shere Mahomed, 
of Ghorian notoriety. He, whom the Wazir had dis- 
owned for surrendering a fortress still occupied by the 
Persian rearguard had since been rewarded with the 
governorship of a province. And now within six weeks 



of rejoicing at the discomfiture of the Shah-in-Shah, 
behold the Afghan brothers reunited against the en- 
croachment of a power that threatened to overrule their 
own ; nay more, communicating, unabashed, with the 
Persian general on the frontier. 

But Shere Mahomed, politic always, disapproved of an 
open breach with the British representative till the ground 
were firmer under their feet. On the 21st, therefore, he 
appeared at Pottinger's quarters, inquired anxiously after 
his health, and tendered apology for high language used 
at their last interview. Whereto Pottinger returned the 
characteristic answer that his language signified nothing ; 
his recent conduct much ; that, for his own part, he 
valued acts before words, however eloquent. And the 
Afghan, who had scarce one honest act to his credit, went 
away sorrowful ; while Eldred Pottinger reverted to para- 
graph 27 of a formidable "demi-official," detailing 
current events for the benefit of a Government secretary 
two thousand miles off : a secretary ignorant of the 
country and the people, yet empowered to issue impractic- 
able instructions which the man on the spot intimately 
acquainted with both must by some means contrive to 

That last week of October was a dismal one for the 
people of Herat and for the British officers, who had 
hoped against hope to rescue them from the worst of 
their miseries. Others besides Shere Mahomed came 
secretly to excuse themselves for carrying out orders they 
dared not disregard. Openly, all who valued their skins 
must appear to support the tyrant. 

On the 25th came the Chief Eunuch himself, eager 
in Pottinger's phrase to " accommodate the difference." 
But it speedily transpired that all the accommodation 


was to be on Pottinger 's side ; and in that respect he was 
adamant. He demanded justice and upright government ; 
neither more rior less. He was too innately Western to 
realize that he might as well have asked the sea to have 
mercy on the shore as ask a Yar Mahomed to have mercy 
on those that were in his power : and the Haji, deputed 
only to demand, not concede, also went away sorrowful 
of countenance, if not of heart. 

That evening Allah Dad Khan reported a fugitive, who 
sought asylum in the house of the Sahibs : a Persian 
prisoner, secretly kept back by one of Yar Mahomed's 
Sultans, when the rest had been returned, by order, to 
the camp. Pottinger, hot against all that savoured of 
slavery, wrote at once to the Wazir requesting that the 
offender be publicly punished by way of warning. The 
request was ignored ; but the prisoner, in charge of his 
own servant, was sent to Ghorian. 

So tyranny pursued its course unchecked ; and not 
tyranny alone. Pottinger soon learned that Yar 
Mahomed and his brother had recently sent a party of 
retainers to Ghorian with overtures of friendship and 
presents for the Shah and his Wazir. In return came 
a dress of honour and a letter to the Minister, bidding 
him dismiss the Englishmen that all might be well between 
Persia and Herat. But if the officers stayed, then surely 
would the Asylum of the Universe return like the cuckoo 
with the tulips and the apple-blossoms. 

Meantime, in the town and outlying villages, matters 
were going rapidly from bad to w 7 orse. The renewal of 
gate-tolls and the rapacity of Yar Mahomed's followers 
without the walls effectually scared aw r ay indispensable 
caravans of grain and provisions. Rapine and disorder 
flourished without let or hindrance, since no man dared 
lift his voice against a follower of the Wazir. 


For more than a week Stoddart and Pottinger stood 
aside unwillingly enough. 

"Give the scoundrel rope to hang himself with," said 
Stoddart ; and both would cheerfully have assisted at the 

But there came a point at which Pottinger 's exacting 
conscience rebelled against further acquiescence in evils 
he had publicly denounced. Moreover, Stoddart must 
needs be moving on to Bokhara, and was loth to leave 
his comrade in so critical a strait. Followed the practical 
question : How far was Kamran aware of it all ? And 
with a view to solving the problem Pottinger drew up a 
formal representation containing seven specific charges 
against Yar Mahomed ; amply proven, every one. To 
these he added an appeal, simple and forcible enough to 
have stirred any ruler whose heart was not located in his 
bronchial tube. 

"My business," it ran, "is to inform you of the true 
state of affairs and always to get you the support of the 
British Government. But if the Wazir continues to 
oppress the people in the manner described above, it is 
impossible for your Majesty's kingdom to exist. The 
English have every desire that, through the grace of God, 
your Majesty may continue to rule. They delivered your 
Majesty from the hands of a foreign foe. But now an 
internal enemy is causing you ruin. Let me tell your 
Majesty that in your whole kingdom there is not a single 
person, be he a Khan or a common subject, who is satis- 
fied with the manner in which the Wazir is discharging 
his duties. ... I submit that some order may be intro- 
duced into the affairs of the State. I also submit that 
when assistance is received from the British Government 
there will be no difficulty in remedying all this. Is it 
difficult for your Majesty to remit the taxes, so that your 


poor subjects may get some relief? Is it difficult for 
your Majesty occasionally to invite the Durrani Khans to 
the city and balm their wounded hearts? I pray God 
that He may shower His mercy on your Majesty, and 
that the policy of His creatures may coincide with the 
will of Heaven." 

Without question the paper must be delivered in 
person, though dignity might resent a return, unsum- 
moned, to the scene of defeat. On the morning of the 
30th, then, they betook themselves to the Citadel, where 
they found the Shah engrossed in debating the points of 
a horse. Pottinger, determined to avoid fruitless talk, 
chose an opportune moment to come forward and present 
his paper, merely remarking that on account of the 
language used at their last interview, he had not since 
waited on his Majesty. 

Kamran inclined his head with a regal aloofness, tucked 
the paper into the folds of his kummerbund, and the 
officers withdrew. 

Evening brought no summons from the Citadel, and 
morning no news, save that the Shah and a party of 
chiefs were to go out riding in the environs. By way of 
informal reminder the officers decided to join his train ; 
and if opportunity arose Stoddart would present a pair 
of detonating pistols, a parting gift already promised to 
the King. 

It was a clear, crisp morning of October, with that 
first hint of frost in the air which quickens the blood in 
a man's veins and magically affects his spiritual barometer. 
Surfeited with inaction, both felt eager for the outing, 
glad to escape the misery-laden atmosphere of the streets, 
uplifted to a renewed confidence in the " ultimate decency 
of things," which certain days have a miraculous power 
to impart. 


" Hullo ! " cried Stoddart, as they neared the draw- 
bridge. "What's in the wind now? Such a formidable 
battalion looks more like war than sport ! " 

For at the entrance gate a strong body of the Wazir's 
troops had been drawn up, and the officers learnt that he 
himself, with an escort, had gone on to the Citadel. 
They learnt also, to their disappointment, that the King 
had been too unwell in the night to ride with the chiefs 
as arranged. Their informant being Haji Feroz, Peace- 
maker-in-ordinary, Stoddart spoke of the pistols and of 
his wish to present them. His Majesty had never seen 
a detonator, and had expressed eagerness to know how 
they worked ; for in his younger days he had been a 
sportsman of note. A messenger was sent up, and soon 
returned with the desired summons. 

" Go forward, O friends of justice and protectors of 
the poor and may peace go with you ! " quoth the 
Eunuch, with an unctuous gesture of blessing ; and 
Pottinger echoed the wish from his heart. 

In the Hall of Audience a couple of Yar Mahomed's 
Sultans sat gossiping on a rug. He had taken good care 
to precede them and secure a few minutes' private talk 
with the King. 

" So much for our chance of a fair hearing," muttered 

Pottinger nodded, frowning, and they went in. 

The royal invalid, propped against cushions, greeted 
them more coldly than the day before. Formal inquiries 
after his health elicited a recital of distressful symptoms 
unceremoniously checked by the Wazir, who nodded 
parenthetically at the intruders and continued his dis- 
cussion of the letters from Ghorian, commenting as freely 
on their contents as though the British officers were thin 


For a while the Shah listened with an abstracted frown, 
then, turning abruptly to Pottinger, he drew out yester- 
day's folded paper and shook it almost in the writer's 

"Think shame of yourself, Pottinger Sahib, to bring 
hither such false accusations at the bidding of others 
jealous, doubtless, and desiring to work evil undetected. 
It is well known to you that every act of Yar Mahomed 
is by my order. Yet you thrust upon me these idle tales, 
merely to make division between my royal self and this 
my Wazir, without whose zeal and fidelity in my service 
the whole kingdom would fall in pieces." 

Pottinger set his teeth and answered nothing. The 
looks of both men warned him that the atmosphere was 
electrical with storm. But the Shah, unappeased by 
silence, rounded on Stoddart, coughing violently and 
reiterating his grievance. 

" You give nothing but trouble, both of you. I told 
that fellow last week that I approved of all the Wazir 's 
acts, and will continue my own system till he gives me 
money. What do you mean, then bringing these false 
charges? *' 

" If they were false, your Highness, they would not 
be in that paper," Stoddart retorted bluntly, angered on 
Pottinger ? s account and regardless always of Asiatic 
etiquette. " Moreover, some of the acts complained of 
have no connection with your present system. The case 
of that Persian prisoner, for instance " 

"He was not a prisoner," snapped Yar Mahomed, 
showing his teeth like a vicious animal. "You lie." 

The direct challenge infuriated Stoddart beyond con- 
trol. " By God, it's you that are the liar ! " he shouted, 
and in that moment the suppressed mutual hatred of weeks 
flashed out like a sword whipped from its sheath. " Have 


you no manhood in your heart that first you fleece the 
people and then make untrue statements to the King? " 
Without staying for an answer he turned hotly upon 
Kamran. " The truth of the matter is that your Majesty 
is being fooled by this man who, for all his smooth 
speech, is a traitor a liar and a dog." 

At that the Afghan sprang forward with a smothered 
snarl of rage. If a glance could kill, the Englishman 
would have left the Citadel feet foremost ; and well had it 
been for Charles Stoddart had he died there and then. 
For although Yar Mahomed withheld his hand on that 
Slst of October, it was only that he might strike more 
slowly and secretly in the end. 

But before he could speak, the Shah, choking with 
passion, had flung back the charge in Stoddart 's teeth. 
"Bismillah! How dare you insult my Wazir to my 
very face," he thundered: and Stoddart, nothing 

"It was he who first insulted me; and I take not such 
words without retort from any man living." 

But Kamran waved him aside. " I care nothing for 
that nothing. It is all false. You are liars, both of 
you. Never speaking a word of truth since you came. 
Promising aid ; promising money ; but giving nothing, 
while my people starve because of taxes I cannot 
forgo " 

And so on and so forth, da capo, fortissimo; till 
Stoddart, weary of waiting for a pause, fired vigorous 
protests into the main volley of sound, and Yar 
Mahomed, outvieing both, shouted fiercely at no one in 
particular : "In God's name what have these English 
done after all that they should dictate to us in our own 

No one answered him. All three men spoke at once 


without the smallest concern for what another might say ; 
and Pottinger, after a few unregarded attempts at more 
placable speech, stood aside half anxious, half disgusted 
wondering what would be the outcome of it all. 

In the end Shah Kamran's bronchial tube settled the 
matter. With one comprehensive curse upon all Feringhis 
he sank among his cushions fighting for breath. Stod- 
dart, sick of futile undignified recrimination, drew out 
the detonating pistols and laid them before him. " I 
have brought these," he said, "in accordance with my 
promise. I will show your Majesty how to work them 
and then take my leave." 

"This is the first time that you kept a promise," his 
Majesty commented ungraciously. But at sight of the 
coveted weapons a spark from the ashes of his dead youth 
gleamed in his eyes ; and during Stoddart's brief demon- 
stration the tension relaxed. But Yar Mahomed, loth or 
unable to leave well alone, soon reverted to the Persians, 
and crowned his insolence by reading aloud, with em- 
phatic gusto, letters received from the Wazir at Tehran. 
These were full of insinuations against the British ; 
threats of a return in the spring if their officers were not 
dismissed ; fulsome assurance that Persia counted upon 
Shere Mahomed Khan ; and underlying all, the frank 
assumption of a sovereignty which, six months earlier, 
both men had appeared readier to die than to admit. 
Such is the way of high politics in the East ! 

"You hear, now, the wisdom of the Shah-in-Shah," 
Yar Mahomed urged, with a leer under his eyelids at the 
two officers. " Better agree. He will give you a country 
worth four of this." 

The Shah's non-committal grunt signified nothing one 
way or the other ; and the Wazir, seeing that Pottinger 
still intended to stand his ground, abruptly left the room. 


With a sign of exasperation Kamran leaned back 
again, and the silence that ensued contrasted ominously 
with the ungoverned outburst that had gone before. It 
lasted several minutes. Then Eldred Pottinger the one 
man who had kept his head and his temper throughout 
stepped forward and spoke. 

Straightly, yet without heat, he protested against the 
ingratitude and injustice of so grossly libelling those who 
had come to him in the simple discharge of their duty, 
hoping that a plain statement of facts might convince 
him of the Wazir's misrule, and of his many broken 
promises, which were the true cause of all that had 
occurred. He reviewed, briefly, his own acts since his 
arrival in the city. 

"And if in all these months I have ever broken faith 
or spoken an untrue word," he concluded, on a deeper 
note of feeling, " I beg you only to name the occasion, 
that I may answer for myself. At the same time let me 
assure your Majesty that both Colonel Stoddart and I 
would sooner give up our lives than disgrace, in any way, 
the country we serve or those whose name we bear. Let 
me entreat you also, in the name of the God of mercy, 
to consider what I have said and have pity upon your 
starving, suffering people. For in our Book of Books it 
is written that 6 the merciful man doeth good to his own 
soul; but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.' " 

It was a long speech for Pottinger ; but although he 
had kept his head, his heart was hot in him, because of 
the Wazir s conduct and the misery of those unfortunates, 
in whose cause he could not choose but spend himself so 
long as his word carried weight in Herat. Stoddart, 
cooler by this time, added a few words to the same effect : 
and Kamran nodded in sullen acquiescence. 

" Yes yes. Doubtless you have right ; and the people 


also. In this ruined city there is not enough for all. 
Therefore if I am to ease the burden of those others 
you must give me money for myself; and if you desire 
my good-will, you must be at one also with Yar Mahomed 

He signified with a gesture that the Wazir be recalled ; 
and he came without haste or cordiality, the shadow of 
storm still in his eyes. 

" See here, my friend," urged Kamran, without zest. 
"These officers have spoken. There is misunderstanding. 
Can it not be set right? " 

"No. That is fool's talk," Yar Mahomed answered 
straightway. " Better by far to treat with the Persians 
than endure the language used by these men." 

Upon that conclusive statement dead silence fell. 

In the face of such deliberate hostility further argu- 
ment were obviously unavailing, and with a formal salute 
the British officers took their leave. 

As they crossed the Hall of Audience Shere Mahomed 
Khan entered, exchanged greetings, and passed on into 
the royal presence. A trivial circumstance; but when 
the destinies of men hang nicely in the balance, it needs 
but a grain of sand to turn the scale. 

p 2 


THEIR homeward walk through the dirt and desolation 
of the city was a silent one. The early nip had gone out 
of the air, the faint light of hope out of their hearts. 
Arrived at their lodgings they sat them down and con- 
fronted the situation, not without an underlying sense of 
the ironic humour of it all. Only seven short months 
ago they had been exerting themselves fruitlessly to bring 
about some sort of understanding between Persia and 
Herat, while Shere Mahomed was repudiated as a traitor. 
And now, behold that very understanding achieved in 
their despite, and they themselves threatened with loss 
of life, or, at least, dismissal from the city for which 
they laboured unsparingly to this end. 

Stoddart flung aside his turban and passed impatient 
fingers through his hair. 

" Well? This is a pretty state of affairs! I'm sorry 
I lost my temper, but not sorry I told that blackguard 
what I think of him. You know their engaging little 
ways better than I do. What do you make of it all ? " 

Pottinger considered a moment. " I think," he said 
slowly, " that the brothers mean to break with us and 
accept Persia's conditions, sovereignty included, and I 
tell you frankly I was thankful to get you undamaged out 
of the Citadel." 

"H'm, yes. I suppose it was touch and go when Yar 
Mahomed flew out at me. I don't doubt the brutes 
would murder us if they dared." 

" And I don't doubt they will, if it suits their conveni- 



ence," Pottinger answered, as imperturbably as if he had 
stated a fact about the weather. 

" Nonsense, man ! " laughed Stoddart, and his laughter 
had a touch of uneasiness, but no shadow of fear. "For 
myself it's conceivable. But you ! it would be too 
barefaced. Look at all you've done for them ! " 

Pottinger shrugged his shoulders and opened his 
journal. He had lived for more than a year with Yar 
Mahomed Khan. 

And evening brought a letter from the Citadel which 
justified his conviction. It purported to be from Shah 
Kamran, and its language was as unequivocal as a blow 
between the eyes. 

Literally translated it ran thus 

6 ' Be it known to you, Mr. Stoddart and Mr. Pot- 
tinger, that since your arrival in this country you 
have offered many indignities to the Afghans. These 
dwellers of the desert have so great a sense of honour 
that they would rather die than put up with an 
insult ; while you have become so impudent as to call 
the Wazir in my presence a liar and a dog. It is 
quite possible that you may be killed. I therefore 
order you to quit my territory. You must not 
remain here. You must go." 

That the threat of murder was no empty one Pottinger 
learnt not long after, when he was told, on good 
authority, that the Shah and Wazir had decided on 
putting both officers to death, and had only been dissuaded 
by Shere Mahomed on the ground that dismissal would 
be more politic and serve the same end. 

Pottinger read this note twice over, then handed it to 
his friend. "That's plain enough," said he, "and upon 
my soul it's a relief. If my presence is to be of no service 


to Government or to these unhappy people, I could 
ask nothing better than leave to shake the dust of 
this blighted city off my feet and take the road once 

"The sooner the better," agreed Stoddart, handing 
him back the royal missive. " If I were in your shoes I'd 
not exchange another word with them, even to save my 
life! " 

While he spoke Pottinger was writing out a receipt for 
the letter and a request that a couple of guides be sent 
next day to escort them in safety to the frontier. But 
in spite of peremptory orders to quit, several days passed 
before these were forthcoming, and during the interval 
there occurred an incident so characteristic of Pottinger 
as to be worth recording. 

Word came to him of an order from the Wazir that 
one of his Sultans, lately attached to Stoddart, should be 
tortured to death, presumably on account of the man's 
gratitude to the Englishman, who had once saved his life. 
Pottinger himself had doubted the Sultan's integrity while 
in their service ; but his plight, and the assurance of his 
friends that only a word from Pottinger Sahib could save 
him, prevailed. Regardless of the open breach between 
them, Pottinger went straight to Yar Mahomed's house, 
rescued the man by offering to enlist him in his own 
service, and before leaving spoke a few private words of 
warning to the Wazir. 

" I told him," he wrote in his letter to Government, 
"that as he had quarrelled with me, not with the State, 
he had better . . . throw himself on the clemency of the 
Governor-General, and neither fight nor rejoin with 
Persia, either of w r hich courses must ensure him and his 
family inevitable ruin. That advice he said he would 
follow, and would never quarrel with the British Govern- 


ment. I replied that he must change his conduct greatly 
or that would certainly come to pass." 

Whether or no this last remark set Yar Mahomed 
thinking, it is certain that next evening came a message 
to the officers' lodgings, suggesting that Colonel Stoddart 
should call on the Minister before leaving Herat. 

That gentleman's comment on the proposal was, as may 
be imagined, brief and very much to the point. Pot- 
tinger supplemented the refusal by adding that the Wazir 
could expect nothing else after an insult for which no 
apology had been offered. He learnt incidentally that 
the Shah was heartily ashamed of his behaviour; that 
neither had the least intention of parting with him, and 
were prepared to make any apologies he pleased, once 
Colonel Stoddart was gone. 

"That is as it may be," returned Pottinger, no 
wise impressed by this mark of royal favour. " To- 
day I accompany Stoddart Sahib one march out on his 
journey, returning next day to make preparation for my 

Thus on the 5th of November, 1838, without further 
exchange of compliments, Charles Stoddart left Herat ; 
its five gates closed and guarded to check the wholesale 
exodus that threatened directly the news of dismissal 
reached the people's ears. 

The twelve-mile march to Parwana was pure relief 
to Englishmen cooped up over-long in the unsavoury 
atmosphere of an Afghan city. The blessed sense of 
freedom, the sheer expanse of hill and valley, the winter 
sunshine and crisp, clean air swept the cobwebs out of 
their brains, the gloomy forebodings out of their hearts, 
saddened though they were at sight of the widespread 
defacement wrought by a seemingly futile siege. Gardens 
and esplanades, mosques, no matter how sacred or ancient, 


all had been sacrificed to the wanton lust of destruction. 
Where orchards had clustered, the earth was grimly 
disfigured by stubble of blackened stumps ; nor had one 
among the countless magnificent plane trees the glory 
of the valley been left to beautify the land in 

But the travellers had matters more personal to discuss 
before they parted : Stoddart's chivalrous mission on be- 
half of Russian captives, very characteristic of the period, 
when the long revolt against all forms of slavery had but 
lately reached its triumphant end ; Pottinger's homeward 
route through Seistan and his hope that he might be of 
service at Kandahar, if rumours of Shah Shujah's 
re-instatement were true. 

They slept that night at Parwana and parted at dawn, 
each commending the other to God's good Providence, 
as even Englishmen could do without false shame in that 
day of a simpler, surer faith in the Great Unseen. Then 
each went upon his way alone among aliens, and inimical 
aliens ; yet no wise disconcerted, because, for both, the 
promise made to Joshua, in the beginning of days, was 
a promise for all time : " Be not afraid, neither be thou 
dismayed; for I, the Lord, am with thee." 

So they believed in the year 1838, and both had need 
of their belief to uphold them through that which was to 

Eldred Pottinger rode thoughtfully back to Herat; 
regret at his failure to achieve the impossible mitigated 
by relief at the near prospect of escaping into a cleaner 
moral atmosphere ; while Stoddart rode northward 
through the mountains to Bokhara, congratulating him- 
self on escaping intact from tne neighbourhood of Yar 
Mahomed Khan. 

But, although he guessed it not, congratulation was 


premature. For there travelled in his train a servant 
secretly paid by the Wazir to deliver a letter from himself 
to the Bokhara chief : a letter that conspired with Stod- 
dart 's disregard of local customs, and his arrogant, 
unbending temper, to bring about the slow years of im- 
prisonment and brutality that culminated in a violent 
death. And not his own merely. For with him died his 
would-be liberator Arthur Conolly, loveable and beloved, 
even of Asiatics, whose practices he fearlessly denounced 
and whose religion he dreamed of dethroning from its 
supremacy in Central Asia. 

There are few more pitiful chapters in Anglo-Indian 
history than the story of that double imprisonment, of 
the indignities, the misery and suspense endured before 
death released those two isolated officers, seemingly 
abandoned to their fate by a country very much occupied 
with matters of greater moment. 

And through it all Stoddart 's pride and haughty 
temper appear to have militated against their chances of 
merciful treatment or ultimate rescue. A Russian officer, 
with whom he spent four months, between his first and 
second periods of imprisonment, declared that never was 
man more imperious and touchy, more unfitted to deal 
with Asiatics than Colonel Stoddart ; brave, resolute 
and highly accomplished gentleman though he was. From 
earliest days until now it is the men of his temperament 
who have stirred up and stimulated that under-current 
of race hatred, which the finest spirits on both sides so 
heartily deplore. 

At this time Stoddart might have left Bokhara with 
the help of his host, but he looked that the British 
Government should come to his aid ; and, although his 
own mission concerned the liberation of Russian captives, 
he resented the idea of owing his release to their Emperor. 


Verily, pride is a luxury for which a man may pay too 
dear ! 

Only once does his resolute spirit appear to have been 
completely broken for a time. Not long after his 
arrival he fell foul of the Minister, who treacherously 
invited him to his house, where he was seized, bound, 
dragged through the streets by torchlight and lowered 
into a well alive with vermin and inhabited by Afghan 
murderers and thieves. After two hideous months spent 
in their company, he conformed outwardly to the 
Mahommedan faith and was restored to the light of day. 

But in time the natural temper of the man reasserted 
itself; nor did his concession in the matter of religion 
avail to save his life, when three years after news of 
a retreating and massacred British army gave the Bokhara 
chief courage to strike the final blow. 

It is said that, at the hour of execution, he sent word 
to the Amir that he died no Moslem, but a Christian at 
heart ; while Conolly, offered his choice between death 
and apostasy, made answer stoutly : " Stoddart became a 
Mussalman and him you have killed. I am prepared to 

And so an end of Charles Stoddart and Arthur 
Conolly ; brave spirits both, whatever their failings : two 
units merely, among the scores of good men and true who 
had, by that time, been sacrificed to the Simla Cabinet's 
hypothetical " great game " in Central Asia. 

ELDRED POTTINGER'S lonely return to Herat was not 
enlivened by the desolate aspect of the city, that smote 
him the more sharply after his respite from its distressful 
atmosphere. Streets empty and silent as in the worst 
days of the siege; half completed shops and houses 
deserted by the builders who had been cheerfully at work 
there a week ago ; bread at famine prices, sheep already 

Nor did the news that greeted him prove more reassur- 
ing. Two large grain Kafilas, it was said, had turned 
back within one march of the city on hearing that the 
Sahibs were to leave. The road to Kandahar, Persia 
and Turkestan swarmed with fugitive Heratis ; for the 
Wazir had been obliged to rescind his order in regard to 
the gates. Furious at being foiled, he had straightway 
despatched soldiers experienced in brutality to waylay his 
unappreciative subjects, strip them and turn them loose to 
die of cold by the roadside. 

Hearing these things and knowing himself debarred 
from action, the heart of Eldred Pottinger was torn 
between compassion for this people, that were as sheep 
not having any shepherd, and the natural longing to be 
gone from sight and sound of misery he was powerless 
to relieve. Tired with two days' marching, and disheart- 
ened by seeming failure, he could come at no definite 
decision that night as to the line of future conduct 
demanded by his threefold duty to Government, to his 
suffering fellow-creatures and to his own self-respect. 



Next morning his room was thronged with friends 
Afghan, Hindu and Herat! eager to bid him welcome 
and enliven him with gossip from the Citadel, whence he 
was cut off. 

Said one who had spoken with Yar Mahomed himself : 
" Think not to depart, O champion of the distressed, and 
grieve the hearts of your friends ! Already the Wazir 
Sahib hath suffered abuse from the Shah for quarrelling 
with the English before the friendship of Persia was 

And from without came news of more stirring import. 
The Kandahar chiefs, it was rumoured, had received 
twelve thousand ducats from Russia, with a promise of 
thirty thousand more, and were already moving on Herat ; 
while a Hindu merchant eclipsed all by announcing the 
imminent advance of a great British force from Feroze- 
pore, "an event," said he, "that is prayed for publicly 
by all classes of people." 

Thus, and in this fashion, did Eldred Pottinger receive 
the first tidings of that "great game" wherein he was 
to play so noble yet so harassing a part. And, at the 
moment, no news could have been more welcome. Like 
too many men of that day he believed in the divine right 
of the Saddozai dynasty ; and in any case, word of an 
approaching British army would no doubt have a salutary 
effect on the attitude of his friends in the Citadel. They 
were obviously temporizing to detain him till Persia 
should vouchsafe an answer to their second proffer of 
alliance ; and as he had insisted on sending two of his 
own men with Stoddart across the mountains, he had no 
wish to leave till they brought word of his friend's arrival 
on the farther side. Without seeming, therefore, to 
regard Yar Mahomed's politic remorse, he gave out that 
his departure was unavoidably postponed ; and on the 12th 


the arrival of two Persian chiefs promised a more definite 
development one way or the other. 

It took the form of a note from the Arz Begi x next 
morning, begging that Pottinger would go with him to 
the Minister's house and bring dissension to an end. The 
request amounted to an admission that yesterday's inter- 
view had failed ; and Pottinger, deeming that an addi- 
tional twinge of anxiety might not be amiss, sent answer 
that without a written recall he doubted whether he 
would admit the Wazir to his quarters, much less honour 
him with a visit. 

Result, a personal appeal from the Officer of Justice 
himself a proven friend, honest enough to admit that 
in spite of Colonel Stoddart's injudicious outburst, the 
British officers had right on their side. Moreover, he had 
boldly urged the Wazir not to disgrace the name of 
Afghan by an open breach with one who had never 
spared himself in their service ; and Yar Mahomed, in 
return, had sworn by all the names of God that his 
quarrel was not with the defender of Herat, but only with 
the man who had miscalled him before the King. 

Pottinger listened till all was said, then he remarked 
quietly, " I am glad that you at least believe I have acted 
for the best. But has it not struck you, my friend, that 
the Wazir 's regrets touch the slightest matter only ; 
while he ignores, for his own convenience, the real cause 
of it all. Regret or no regret, how should a few empty 
compliments and promises undo evil already done ? How 
shall the fugitive citizens be recalled, the broken promises 
patched up, the violated pledges restored ? As for their 
fashion of requiting my services, that is a trifle by com- 
parison, though discreditable enough, as you know 

without telling " 

1 Officer of Justice. 


"True, O Pottinger Sahib," the peacemaker inter- 
posed eagerly. " But is there not forgiveness, even with 
Allah, when men profess sorrow for past misdeeds? " 

The Englishman shrugged his shoulders. "To say 
truth, I need something more practical than professions. 
They are nothing but false coin in the mouth of Yar 
Mahomed Khan. You yourself have seen how he will 
make promises in Allah's name here under my roof, and 
break them before reaching his own door. The fact that 
we worked and fought together for so long has made me 
more forbearing than he deserved. But by now he has 
exhausted even my patience." 

"Nay, my friend, that is not the answer I desire. 
Have you no regard for the Wazir's entreaty that you 
should consider, at least, your own welfare and the 
interests of your country that will sustain great loss if 
this city should succumb to Russia or Iran? " 

At the cunning of that final plea Pottinger laughed 

" Since when has Yar Mahomed grown so solicitous of 
my welfare and the interests of my country that he must 
needs entreat me to consider both ! You can assure him 
from me that, in comparison with the last, the first does 
not signify a straw; though I have no fear that my 
Government will rebuke me for upholding right and truth 
even if it should suffer in consequence, which, thank God, 
it is not likely to do through any piece of inimical folly 
committed by Shah Kamran." 

"The Sahib hath spoken. It is enough." And fer- 
vently reiterating his desire to promote peace, the good 
man took his leave. 

Two days later came a formal note from Yar Mahomed, 
enclosing letters from the Amir of Kabul to Mahomed 
Shah and the Russian Envoy, together with the draft of 


a treaty between himself and them. No request for 
advice ; no word of apology or recall. And on the 20th 
Pottinger wrote to Macnaghten, recording events within 
and rumours without up to that date. Finally, in regard 
to his own position, he ventured a definite opinion worth 
quoting in view of after events. 

"As I sent two of my men with Colonel Stoddart 
through the mountains, I am detained till they return, 
which I expect hourly, as more than a sufficient time has 
elapsed ; and I should feel anxious on that gentleman's 
account but that he wrote me a note by a messenger 
telling me of his safe arrival amongst the outliers of the 
Hazaras. I, at present, can see no way by which I may 
be able to remain here. The whole conduct of the 
Government has been so false and outrageous that the 
wildest fiction falls short of the reality, and their late 
conduct to Colonel Stoddart and myself, after the labour 
we have had in their service, makes it painful to think 
of remaining. This, however, I would not mind if I saw 
any hope of being able to forward the views of Govern- 
ment, or to be of any use ; but the disregard of Kamran 
to my advice, and the opposition of Yar Mahomed Khan 
to everything tending to benefit the country, joined to 
the experience I have had of their former conduct, and 
their insulting carriage to myself, show me that my stay 
will not be productive of advantage ; but very probably 
of the contrary, by lowering their ideas of our honour 
and character, which I am glad to say they rate highly. 

"I intend to return by the road of Seistan, and if 
possible may stay some time with the chiefs there until I 
can communicate with Mr. Leech in Khelat, and hear 
if I can be of any use in that quarter." 

Here surely was an opinion worth considering, seeing 
that the writer had spent fourteen months in close touch 


with the rulers of Herat. But long before this letter 
reached Calcutta the future of that city had been mapped 
out ; not in accordance with facts, but in accordance with 
Macnagh ten's over-ambitious policy, which confessedly 
or no aimed at nothing less than Great Britain para- 
mount in Central Asia. 

As for Pottinger before the return of his servants set 
him free to think seriously of departure, he received 
letters from Simla that left him no choice but to remain 
and accept anything in the shape of an apology that Yar 
Mahomed might be disposed to honour him withal. 

Macnaghten wrote from Simla, enclosing a fulsome 
letter from Lord Auckland to Shah Kamran wherein the 
royal invalid sodden with drink and drugs found him- 
self belauded for his "noble resistance," and for having 
"driven back the invading army with all its thousands, 
its guns, its munition," by the sole strength of his 
"courage and determination." In the same strain the 
Governor-General dilated on his zeal for the interests of 
Kamran ; advocated a firm and lasting bond of friendship 
with the British Government, and bade the Shah speak 
freely with his "true friend Lieut. Pottinger," who had 
already done much to deserve his lordship's approbation. 

"No written bond," he concluded, with ingenuous 
fervour, " can add to my desire to serve you, nor increase 
my personal respect for your gallant devotion in defence 
of your country." 

Pottinger, knowing too well the exact extent of the 
said "gallant devotion," folded up that remarkable 
document with an enigmatic smile. It left him little 
doubt as to the nature of his own instructions, and revert- 
ing to Macnagh ten's letter, he learned that he must con- 
sider himself attached to the Kabul Mission from 
October 1, and act under the Envoy's instructions till 


further orders. He must impress on the Shah the need 
of securing himself, at the present critical juncture, to a 
strong and friendly power, a power zealous for the estab- 
lishment of prosperity and peace. 

" You will try and find out what assistance he would 
require from Government, and you will encourage his 
allying himself with us by the assurance that we shall 
receive his proposals with a liberal spirit. Should money 
be required you can draw on Captain Burnes for not more 
than one lakh of rupees " (10,000). 

So much for Yar Mahomed's preposterous demand and 
for Pottinger's visions of the road, Macnagh ten's letter 
relieved him, at least, from the burden of indecision. 
It now remained simply to accept the Wazir's apology 
and devote himself afresh to the thankless task of making 
bricks without straw. To what end? 


LORD AUCKLAND'S sugared phrases had at least the 
effect of paving the way to peace, which Pottinger now 
began to realize he was expected to keep at any price. 
Remained the problem, how to combine the keeping of 
peace with the keeping of his earlier promise made 
in the name of the British Government that justice 
and exemption from slavery would be enforced while he 
represented his country at Herat. Nor were matters 
simplified by the awkward fact that beyond vaguely 
worded offers of friendship, Pottinger had no certain 
knowledge of that country's future intentions, or the still 
more awkward fact that if any deed of his should chance 
to hamper those unknown intentions, the blame and 
responsibility would be on his own head. 

And, come what might, there was none at hand with 
whom he could take counsel. Even his good friend the 
Hakeem was gone southward on a journey ; and the depar- 
ture of Stoddart had made his isolation complete. The 
nearest Englishmen were Sir John McNeill at Tehran, 
seven hundred and fifty miles off; and at Shikarpore, 
farther off still, Alexander Burnes, now Lieutenant- 
Colonel and a knight to boot, intent on coercing Belu- 
chistan chiefs into some show of welcome to Shah Shujah, 
the Undesired, and his British cortege : in his own words, 
"treaty-making on a great scale . . . and carrying all 
before me." 

From neither of these had Pottinger heard for weeks, 
and for months no personal packets from India had 



arrived to cheer him. For news of the outer world he 
depended mainly on rumours brought by merchants of 
caravans, and the sifting of a few possible grains of truth 
from a haystack of embellishments was tedious and 
harassing beyond belief. But caravans had become chary 
of calling since news of the Sahibs' dismissal scared the 
country-side : a practical compliment to British character, 
with which Pottinger could very well have dispensed at 
the moment. 

Alone, unaided, and hampered by lack of knowledge, 
it remained only to use his best discretion and pray that 
the " laudatory wig " might not be his reward. 

Verily and indeed there is no school for manhood com- 
parable to service in these far-off outposts of Empire, 
where character is fired and moulded, often painfully 
enough, " in the furnace of responsibility and on the anvil 
of self-reliance " ; where boys in their twenties may be 
called upon to play the explorer, the soldier, the adminis- 
trator, by turns or all at once, as circumstances dictate. 
Pottinger having played the two first, with distinction, 
was not permitted to escape the third : for him, the least 
congenial of the three. But in this line of service, as in 
all he undertook, thoroughness, judgment and tenacity of 
purpose were the outstanding qualities of his work. Not 
often even in the varied vicissitudes of political pioneer- 
ing has it fallen to the lot of a British subaltern, barely 
seven-and-twenty, to cope single-handed with a Yar 
Mahomed Khan : a man of nearly twice his age and ten 
times his experience; more than his equal in ability and 
strength, with the fiend's own cunning superadded, and 
never the ghost of a scruple to hamper him in word or 

Pottinger, sitting late into the night alone with his 
thoughts and his problem saw before him a struggle 


compared with which the struggle for Herat had been 
mere child's play ; saw, too, that his position though 
strengthened by Government sanction was actually 
harder to maintain than during the siege. Then, all 
causes of internal dissension had been merged in con- 
certed action against the common foe ; now, when policy 
demanded even closer co-operation with those in authority 
the very credit of his country and his own promise to 
the people compelled an attitude of continual opposition, 
except in the matter of supplying funds for the restoration 
of tillage and trade. For this reason, and this reason 
alone, did Yar Mahomed accept Lord Auckland's tenders 
of friendship, and tolerate the presence of a British agent 
at Herat ; a significant fact not to be lost sight of 
throughout all the complications that ensued. 

Meantime there remained the practical question what 
was to be done next? And before morning Pottinger 
had decided upon a line of action that might enable him 
to keep the peace and hold his own till Government saw 
fit to grant him the stronger support, without which no 
foothold could be maintained upon the shifting sands of 
Afghan friendship. 

Since there was plainly no hope of forcing the Wazir 
to deal justly and humanely by his people, Pottinger 
resolved to temporize, on condition that none of his 
measures be considered binding and that judgment on the 
Wazir 's questionable conduct be left for Government to 

A note to this effect brought a converted Yar Mahomed 
to his quarters next morning. Here they discussed 
matters amicably and with excellent result. Pottinger 
proposed that the collecting of taxes and the dispensation 
of justice be placed entirely in his own hands, while the 
Wazir should positively undertake to forgo treasonous 


correspondence with foreign states and suppress slave 
dealing in all the region under his dominion. 

Yar Mahomed assented without demur; and therewith 
Pottinger addressed himself in earnest to work demanding 
all his energies ; work that came as a blessed relief after 
a spell of inaction aggravated by increasing desolation, 
as week followed week and no word of greeting came to 
him from those he loved in India or at home. True, 
his uncle wrote regularly once or twice a month, but so 
unsettled was the state of the whole country beyond 
Kabul, that many letters went hopelessly astray, while 
the rest would arrive at long intervals in batches of two 
and three, quite irrespective of their dates of despatch. 

And now, as Christmas drew near with its sacred 
memories and irresistible tug at the heart-strings the 
unacknowledged ache became harder to ignore, and work, 
however harassing, a gift of the gods. The intricacies of 
tax settlements and the dispensing of justice when delin- 
quents could be run to earth left little enough time 
for letters to Government and none for private anxieties. 
At the Pae-i-Takht he was loyally supported by his friend 
the Arz Begi ; and his reappearance there had an 
immediate effect upon the outward flowing stream that 
had threatened to empty the city. 

The tax question was more complex, demanding a nice 
balance of judgment and tact. Total abolition were 
worse than useless. The money would merely be extorted, 
in secret, by the followers of Yar Mahomed and his chiefs. 
Wherefore he decided to reinforce town duties at a 
moderate rate, and to levy taxes in the Shah's name, 
while privately assuring the crippled citizens that all 
money so taken would be regarded as a loan, and repaid 
if the Herat Government kept its promises as regards 
slavery and foreign intrigue. A portentous "if " for 


any who had intimate experience of that Government 
and its ways. 

Bat British dominion in the East can boast few greater 
assets than implicit belief in the good faith and unlimited 
power of the Shah. By means of this asset, coupled with 
his own tact and firmness, Pottinger speedily set his plac- 
able measures in such rough working order as conditions 
would allow. 

Nor did he confine himself to civic problems only. 
The abiding tenderness of the true soldier, for all that 
are desolate and oppressed, impelled him to ceaseless 
exertion on behalf of the very poorest, the sub-stratum of 
starving, homeless, human creatures who thronged the 
by-ways and windowless houses, and who cared nothing 
for taxes or justice, but cried aloud for bread. Under 
his direct supervision, more than a thousand of these 
were fed daily in the market-place, on the only food pro- 
curable : a very coarse broth of jowaree and millet boiled 
up with salt and fat from the doomba sheep. This 
unpalatable decoction was devoured as if it had been 
nectar of the gods ; and for those who tasted little or 
nothing between whiles, its distribution was the supreme 
event of the day. Among this destitute remnant were 
countless orphans, and to these Pottinger 's heart went 
out with peculiar tenderness. No less than forty of them 
he saved from slavery and kept under his personal care 
while he remained in Herat. On leaving he commended 
them to Major Todd, with the result that they were 
decently educated and taught trades for their own sup- 
port. Six he took with him to Calcutta and placed in 
the College of Medicine, where Conolly had placed his 
good friend the Hakeem. 

For in Eldred Pottinger the two-fold zeal of the soldier 
and philanthropist a combination less uncommon than 


it may sound burned with no less fervour than in Henry 
Lawrence himself : and although history may remember 
him as the defender of Herat, it is probable that the 
citizens for whom he wrought remembered him rather as 
their saviour. Such is the world's way. The defence was 
more effective, and of greater political moment. Hence 
it stands recorded in full. But beyond tributes from Sir 
John Login and Sir John Kaye and a small after-crop 
of criticisms, such as no Afghan " political " of that time 
could escape there remains scant record of his arduous 
struggle against injustice and brutality, slavery and 
famine. Only from letters, private and official, have the 
details of that struggle been gleaned and set down for 
the satisfaction of those who prize high-hearted impulse 
and effort no whit less than material achievement. 

Not that the four months following upon the Persian 
retreat had been destitute of achievement. Far from it. 
By the end of December despite passing interludes of 
paralysis and panic trade and tillage had been revived ; 
the taxes reduced to a minimum ; much suffering re- 
dressed ; rough justice set on foot. And although this 
timid renewal of life flourished under the lee of a human 
volcano, it was no small matter that for a space the people 
had leisure to breathe and barter and pray ; for a space, 
at least, there was peace in the land. 


BUT prolonged peace under the rule of Yar Mahomed 
Khan was a miracle past praying for. 

Early in January PottLnger discovered that the Wazir 
had secretly despatched a caravan of slaves with a grain 
Kafila that had left the city a few days before. The news 
roused him to a white heat of indignation. Of all Yar 
Mahomed's favourite sins this was the one he most strenu- 
ously opposed ; and now he went straight to the citadel, 
resolved in his heart that the caravan should be recalled 
and he himself would go surety for repayment of the 
money ; or, in the last resort, he would threaten to leave 

But Yar Mahomed in an obdurate mood was a match 
for any Englishman on earth. The people were his to 
sell when there was need. Even a low-born had the right 
to do as he would with his own. Argument, entreaty, 
threats all were alike unavailing ; and Pottinger, mad- 
dened by the covert smile half insolence, half amusement, 
at this exhibition of pure Feringhi madness would fain 
have struck the man across his cruel mouth. But, in his 
own words, policy obliged him to restrain his wrath and 
rest content with a vigorous protest against conduct 
whereon he was not empowered to pass judgment. The 
matter would be duly reported to the Indian Government ; 
and there an end for the time being. 

But late that night, as he closed his journal and pushed 
back his chair, the encompassing silence brought forth a 
sound unusual at such an hour : a low, insistent knocking 
at the outer door. 

It proved to be his staunch adherent Mirza Ibrahim, 



who through all contingencies had borne himself friendly, 
and who now appeared in some distress of mind. 

"Well, Mirza Sahib, to what do I owe this honour? " 
Pottinger asked, after greetings. "A strange hour for 
calling ; but your visits have always been in the way of 

"As always so now, helper of the helpless," the man 
replied, with a deep obeisance. "The heart of the Sahib 
is hot within him is it not so ? because my master hath 
disposed of twenty or thirty useless ones in exchange for 
money needful to all? " 

And Pottinger : " Yes, my heart is hot ; not only 
because of men and women handled and bartered like 
cattle, but because it is impossible that two men can 
work together for the same end if the feet of one be set 
upon a rock, and of the other upon shifting sand." 

"Nay, Sahib, for the love of Allah say not impos- 
sible," the Afghan pleaded, with genuine fervour. 
" There be difficulties in this matter beyond what appear ; 
but in truth it is not the desire of my master lightly to 
break his engagements with your noble country. And 
hearing there had been some talk of departure, I am come 
hither in secret to beseech the true friend of Herat that 
he will not desert this city and this people that, without 
his aid and championship, had never been lifted from the 
dust of destruction." 

Before the last words were spoken the man had sunk 
upon his knees, taken off his turban, and laying it at 
Pottinger's feet in supreme token of appeal, bowed his 
forehead to the ground. A request so proffered was one 
that no true-hearted man could resist; moreover, the 
Afghan had done Pottinger more than one service in the 
past year, and he was not sorry to have an opportunity 
of doing him a good turn. 

" In respect of leaving Herat I had come to no 


decision," said he. "But now it is otherwise. The 
good-will of my Government is towards your city ; there- 
fore, because this request is yours and made in the name 
of the people I will stay." 

" Praise be to Allah, the compassionate, the merci- 
ful ! " And the Mirza, rapidly muttering a fattiyah, 
would have saluted Pottinger's feet, but the Englishman 
raised him by the shoulder. 

"It is enough," he said, smiling and presenting the 
discarded turban. "I owe you a service. I am glad to 
pay my debt." 

"And you will see my master? " 

"If he will call on me to-morrow yes ; and if he is 
prepared to renew his former promises, with better inten- 
tion of keeping them than heretofore." 

It seemed that he was so prepared ; and he came 
accordingly all suavity and concession. The old ground 
was gone over for the fiftieth time, the old promises 
renewed, more for the sake of moral effect than from 
any real hope that he would keep them a moment longer 
than a veneer of virtue served his turn. 

For the moment, at all events, readjustment was com- 
plete; and by now Eldred Pottinger, though by nature 
ardent and impatient, had learned the invaluable art of 
living from moment to moment ; of concentrating all his 
energies on the passing day instead of diffusing them by 
vain attempts to see beyond the horizon. 

Meanwhile, with matter-of-fact quietness, he carried 
on his self-appointed task, appearing daily at the Pae-i- 
Takht and in the market-place at feeding-time ; and within 
the week there came an official document from Macnaghten 
which made clear to him, once for all, that whatever Yar 
Mahomed might do, or leave undone, he himself would 
be expected to retain his foothold at Herat. 

The letter opened with a formal intimation of his 


appointment on a consolidated salary of one thousand 
rupees a month. It acknowledged the receipt of his first 
account of events written after the siege, an account 
"perused with much interest by the Governor-General," 
who bade his representative " observe the strictest 
economy " and apply the sum forwarded by Burnes " to 
the most beneficent purposes." 

In truth, the whole document served to increase rather 
than lighten the burden of responsibility that already 
weighed heavily on Pottinger's conscientious soul. 
Stripped of official verbiage, four hopelessly conflicting 
commands stood out plain and clear : strict economy ; the 
promotion of peace and prosperity ; no offence to power- 
ful individuals ; no check on the authority of the Wazir. 
A promising prelude to the reconciling of all parties 
which he must strenuously endeavour to promote. 

Dearly would he have liked, at that moment, to set 
Mr. Secretary Macnaghten in his own shoes for three 
months, and then confront him with the query : " How, in 
the face of four-cornered facts, can these things be? " 

But awkward questions and the statement of awkward 
facts were not in the bond. Moreover Macnaghten, like 
most ardent theorists, suffered from constitutional short- 
sightedness in this regard an infirmity from which Pot- 
tinger was ultimately to suffer much and British India 
more. The two men had small affinity either in tempera- 
ment or in political outlook ; and from the first Pottinger 
did not relish the prospect of working under the newly- 
made envoy. As for his own appointment, complimentary 
though it was, he would rather have been well on his way 
to China, absorbed in geographical research, and far 
removed from the subtleties of diplomacy, for which he 
possessed no natural gift. 

His own opinion on the subject transpires in a brief 
review of his services, written two years later on account 


of friction with Macnaghten, who, from first to last and 
most often unwittingly proved a stone of stumbling in 
his path. "The Governor-General, unasked by me, 
appointed me an assistant of Sir William Macnaghten, 
with instructions to keep on friendly terms with the Herat 
Government, a thing perfectly impossible. Left to 
myself, as an English subject I could get on very well, 
but as an agent I could not keep on the jostling, shoulder- 
ing and retaliatory system by which men of rank hold 
their own in Afghanistan." 

This he already foresaw ; yet there could be no question 
of refusal, of withdrawing his hand from the plough. 
He supposed that, in time, a mission would be sent to his 
support and the town fortified, if not garrisoned, to 
some purpose. Till then the impossible must by some 
means be achieved for the sake of the downtrodden 
Heratis, for the sake of a Government evidently deter- 
mined to take the whole province under its elastically 
expansive wing ; and above all, for the sake of that dear 
mother in Ireland, who needed all the practical help he 
could give her, in view of the chronically unsettled state 
of his father's affairs. 

Thought of his mother revived the haunting question : 
How and where in that very hour was she who had so 
loved and leaned upon him, even from earliest days? 
How was she enduring the ache and strain of anxiety long 
drawn out? Or had she by any terrible chance ? 

But upon that intolerable doubt he sternly slammed 
the door of his heart, and rising up, went forth into the 
market-place to banish ghosts and hear the evening's 


LETTERS at last ! Letters in handwriting more wel- 
come than that of Mr. Secretary Macnaghten or Sir John 
McNeill. Two from his uncle; one from his old friend 
and Commandant Captain Ward ; and better than all, one 
from Ireland a costly treasure, stamped 2s. 6d. 
addressed in the hieroglyphic, needle-pointed handwriting 
of John Pottinger, eldest of the eight brothers and sisters 
who, one after one, were being drawn irresistibly towards 
the East. 

John had returned on sick leave not long since ; and 
Eldred, slipping a penknife round the seal, scanned the 
crossed sheet to assure himself that all was well. Then 
he glanced at the heading, "Dublin. Aug. 3rd, 1838." 
And he who read sat in a mud house in Herat on the 
12th of January 1839. But Anglo-Indians of that day 
were inured to the casual traffic between East and West, 
not entirely devoid of compensations, incredible though 
that may seem to their more impatient grandsons ; and 
Eldred Pottinger, his anxiety set at rest, gave himself 
up to unhurried enjoyment of his brother's lighter, 
livelier outlook on men and things. 


"It is now a long time since you and I have 
exchanged epistles, but I have heard of you from 
many quarters ; all, especially my Uncle Henry, 
speaking of you in the highest terms of praise ; from 
which I judge you have been successful in your 


journey to Khorassan. My uncle mentioned in his 
last letter to my mother that he had applied to the 
Governor-General to have you appointed political 
agent at the court of Sindh. I know it will be 
opposed by that stupid old fool who sleeps ' in the 
chair of honour ' ; but I still hope this may find you 
ensconced in all the dignity of charge d'affaires at 
Hyderabad, with the salary of fifteen hundred or two 
thousand rupees a month, which will put you in a 
fair way of restoring to life the fallen dignity of the 
House of Pottinger! 

" By the way, I may give you a bit of advice : 
make up your mind not to marry under fifty thousand 
pounds ! The women here make desperate love to 
me, but when they find I am not heir apparent 
(query, to what ?) it is amusing to see how soon their 
ardour cools. I am really not joking, though, when 
I hope to see you some day spliced to a fortune. 

"My father has put his affairs, or rather your 
affairs (the Kilmore property), into the hands of old 
Alick Stewart, who takes a great interest in you ; 
and, such as it is, it will come to you unencumbered, 
which is more than I expected. For what my grand- 
father began my father has finished ; and you are 
the sufferer ! . . . But, careless as he has been of 
your interests and his own, he loves you, Eldred, 
better than you think ; and has, even at the eleventh 
hour, done all in his power to retrieve his former 
extravagance ; and when I read him my uncle's letter 
about you, I never saw any person more delighted 
than he was at hearing your praise. 

" I have been in wretched health ever since I came 
to England ; and am now living in lodgings here in 
order to be near the doctor. ..." 


For the rest, local and family news, welcome, after 
months of isolation, as the first sun-ray after storm. 

Equally welcome, in another fashion, was the first word 
of congratulation upon his own achievement from Captain 
Ward, whose faith in him had stimulated his zest for 
adventurous travel. 

DEAR GENERAL," he read and smiled, even 
while he glowed at the extravagant compliment 

"A packet goes off this evening to your uncle, 
and I cannot let it be despatched without congratulat- 
ing you on all the honours you have gained. Now 
that you have a little leisure you may look back and 
be proud of the assistance you have afforded to a 
gallant and noble defence. You have merited nobly 
of the British Government both in Europe and Asia ; 
and I trust you may soon have substantial proofs of 
the high estimation in which your character is held 
by both parties. The retrograde movement of the 
Persians and the safety of Herat will completely 
change Lord Auckland's plans, I should imagine. I 
fear he has not been playing the best game in select- 
ing Shah Shujah for our puppet. We might equally 
well have gained our ends with Dost Mahomed and 
without the ruinous expense in which the present 
plan will involve the country. ..." 

Unhappily, as has been shown, Lord Auckland had seen 
no reason to cancel his costly enterprise; and Colonel 
Pottinger's letter, dated the 7th of December, already 
foreshadowed breakers ahead in Sindh. It foreshadowed 
also further friction with Sir Alexander Burnes. If he 
had been a thorn in the flesh aforetime he now threatened 
to become a serious political obstacle to the man whose 
forbearance, discretion and restraint went far to save 


the army of the Indus from an initial disaster in 

But for the most part Colonel Pottinger's letter over- 
flowed with fatherly joy and pride in his " dearest 
Eldred," seasoned with sound advice; and the one, no 
less than the other, brought unspeakable refreshment of 
heart to the nephew who loved him as a son. 

"I must now, my dear Eldred," he wrote, having 
briefly dismissed the affairs of Sindh, " congratulate you 
from the bottom of my heart on the magnificent orders 
which the Governor-General has issued about you. I 
have no doubt that you will be knighted and field- 
officered as soon as your conduct is reported at home. 
Before I saw the order I wrote to ask what was to become 
of you. I have since written to Bombay for political 
kit for you, which I hope to receive in time to forward 
by the Bengal Army as far as Kandahar. I think of 
asking Major Todd to take charge of it, so that you can 
let him know your wishes about its despatch to Herat. 
I would strongly advise you to apply to have as great a 
portion of your allowances as you can spare paid to 
Forbes and Co., Bombay. It will accumulate in their 
hands, and when you want it sent to Europe I will 
manage it for you free of commission. . . . 

" Save every rupee you can to buy an estate and re- 
establish yourself as Head of the Family. We have all 
reason to be proud of you, and I have been overwhelmed 
with congratulations from all quarters, at your * Burra 
Nam. 9 On one point I must warn you. That is, not 
to advance a rupee to your father, or any of your rela- 
tions. To him it will do no good ; and had you not most 
generously given up your .5000, your now settling it on 
your sisters would have been an act worthy of you. . . . 

" I am determined you shall save money. ( Them's my 


sentiments.' I will perhaps add a P.S. when I get to 

" God bless you, my dear boy. Take all care of your- 
self and write to me whenever you have opportunity, if 
only two lines ; as we are all most and constantly anxious 
about you ; and I am 

" Your most affectionate uncle, 


Certain it is that whatever Eldred Pottinger may have 
lacked of the lighter and more lucrative qualities that 
make for popularity, he possessed, in full measure, the 
supreme gift of commanding love and admiration from 
all who knew him intimately enough to penetrate the outer 
shell of modesty and reserve. To this fact almost every 
surviving letter bears testimony, each in its own fashion. 

Of himself, too, it was characteristic that for all his 
acquiescence in Colonel Pottinger 's advice, he sent money 
home regularly to his mother, from that time onward, 
till the day of his death ; and thereafter a grateful Govern- 
ment voted her a hundred pounds a year in recognition of 
his services. A notable and seemingly rare record 
this, of a mother-and-son devotion purely spiritual, owing 
nothing to the tie of blood ; the more notable because 
Eldred Pottinger was, in almost every respect, the child 
of his own dead mother rather than of his talented but 
unstable father : and the strength of the bond between 
them gave an added depth and glow to his young life; 
an added glory to her own. 

Cheered and refreshed beyond measure, he turned 
hungrily to the packet of newspapers that contained, 
among other items of interest, the Gazette, already 
quoted, with its substantial compliment and stirring 
tribute of praise. Thoroughly to absorb and digest his 


unwonted feast of good things took time, as also did 
the letter to his uncle into which he plunged while the 
glow of contact was still fresh upon him. 

So, for a brief, blessed space he escaped in spirit from 
the harassing strain of life at Herat ; and for that space 
he had respite from the cry of the hungry and the guile 
of Yar Mahomed Khan. 


Two days later, merged once more in the old inexorable 
round, he sat again at his table, writing to Macnaghten 
of his compromise with the Wazir and of the caravan 
incident: adding by way of self-justification : "I was 
anxious not to meddle with internal affairs, but felt, if I 
did not, it would be utterly impossible to stop tyranny 
and slave dealing, for no one remains who has courage 
to bring offenders to punishment, and nothing but my 
appearance in the bazaar at Pae-i-Takht will serve to stop 
the stream of emigration and induce the people to begin 
the cultivation of their fields. ... I have thus briefly 
described the present state of things, and trust I shall 
be able to keep them so till support arrives. . . . The 
Persians are strengthening and provisioning Ghorian, 
and have forbidden supplies of grain being sent to Herat. 
The Hazaras, and indeed all the other tribes, are quite 
independent, plundering the roads and making war as 
they please. . . . Every one is awaiting with anxiety the 
progress of our army, and at present a single brigade 
may march unopposed to the banks of the Amoo, if it 
once pass Kandahar. ... Sir John McNeill writes that 
the state of things at Tehran was very unsatisfactory 
. . . and that everything in Persia depends on the army 
of the Indus." 

And how was it faring, meanwhile, that army of the 
high-sounding title borrowed from the bulletins of 
Napoleon ? 

Well indeed, for all concerned, could it have borrowed 



some of the great emperor's genius for the art of war. 
But, even from the outset, genius and justice alike were 
conspicuous by their absence. " The plan of campaign," 
it is written by Sir Henry Durand, " violated, in a glaring 
manner, all usual military precautions. Although, in 
Eastern wars, the leaders of our armies have dared much 
yet never before during the history of British power in 
India had so wild, ill-considered and adventurous a scheme 
of aggression been entertained." 

And the detailed records to be found in every history 
of the period amply justify a stricture as accurate as it is 
severe : a stricture that yet reflects no discredit on that 
able and resolute soldier, Sir Henry Fane. Commander- 
in-chief though he was, and leader-elect of the entire 
force, he appears to have been allowed little voice in 
determining the general scheme of advance, and the man's 
haughty spirit must have brooked with impatience the 
crude military ideas of political officers unversed in the 
very rudiments of war, eager only to achieve their own 
purposes with the least possible delay, by shutting their 
eyes to obvious lions in the path. Yet, before any 
definite advance could be achieved, certain of these lions 
demanded not merely recognition "but coercion, by fair 
means or foul. 

In the first place owing to the objections of Ran jit 
Singh it had been decided to march the main army into 
Afghanistan through Sindh, regardless of the trifling 
detail that this would involve a direct breach of treaty 
with that country whose rulers might well have their own 
objections to a policy that, being interpreted, signified : 
Your money or your life! 

Weak and wealthy, these princes clung tenaciously to 
an independence that must succumb in time to Sikh or 
British power, and straightforward attack, with a view 


to annexation, had been honest at least, if more than a 
little aggressive. But as one lie breeds another, so in- 
justice breeds injustice ; and the wrong done to the Amir 
of Kabul involved further wrong to the Amirs of Sindh, 
who had reluctantly allowed trade navigation of the Indus 
on the express condition that it be not used for the trans- 
port of military stores. They were now to be told that, 
in the present crisis, this article of the treaty must be 
suspended ; that in addition they must pay a heavy 
subsidy, agree to the presence of a reserve force in sup- 
port of the army, and endure the renewal of an annual 
tribute to Shah Shujah that had lapsed for thirty years. 

Such were the unpalatable orders despatched to Henry 
Pottinger by the Governor-General, who had succeeded 
in convincing himself that the Sindh Amirs were treacher- 
ous and inimical because, forsooth, they had written a 
letter full of flowery Eastern compliment to Mahomed 
Shah, as head of the Shiah sect, and were unwilling to 
support the claims of an Afghan king long famous for 
his pretensions to the ownership of Sindh. For these 
inadequate reasons their co-operation in Lord Auckland's 
"just and necessary undertaking " was not to be asked : 
it was to be demanded, enforced, if need be, at the point 
of the bayonet. Divested of diplomatic draperies, the 
simple plan of action amounted to this : The Amirs' 
money was to be taken, their country occupied, their 
treaties set aside, to the tune of empty phrases anent 
mutual good-will. And Henry Pottinger lately pro- 
moted from Kutch to Sindh was called upon, as Resident, 
to carry out this policy of mingled injustice and aggres- 
sion, while at the same time avoiding all risk of open 
hostility that might delay the "grand promenade" by 
involving it in a preliminary conquest of the country. 
All things were to be done in friendliness and in order ; 


yet in all things the will of the British Government must 

It was an anxious and anomalous position for a man 
more than commonly clear-eyed and high-minded, a man 
as jealous as his nephew for England's good name in the 
East. But the fiat had gone forth. Shah Shu j ah, with 
his own contingent, had crossed the Indus higher up and 
marched to Shikarpore. Sir John Keane with five thou- 
sand troops had long since set sail from Bombay ; while 
the Bengal army, twenty thousand strong encumbered 
with thirty thousand camels and as many camp followers 
was marching, under Fane and Sir Willoughby Cotton, 
from Ferozepore. It behoved Henry Pottinger to play 
his hand so that this unwieldy mass should pass peace- 
ably through Sindh ; and he resolved, in his wisdom, that 
no word of Lord Auckland's terms should transpire till 
the arrival of the Bombay troops should enable him to 
enforce his unpalatable demands. 

But he reckoned without Alexander Burnes ; and by 
the end of December found himself in an impasse demand- 
ing all the coolness, discretion and forbearance wherewith 
he was endowed. On the one hand, a Government that 
either could not or would not perceive the real difficulties 
involved; on the other, local princes increasingly sus- 
picious and hostile. On the south, Sir John Keane landed 
at Vikkur only to find himself paralyzed for lack of trans- 
port and grain, which a " friendly country " had failed 
to supply, and thus effectually baulked his junction with 
the Bengal army, seven hundred and fifty miles off. On 
the north, in Upper Sindh, Alexander Burnes elate with 
his new title and " a little brief authority " making 
confusion worse confounded, by harassing his superior 
officer with drafts of unpracticable treaties, flippant criti- 
cisms, and that final crowning indiscretion, the premature 


disclosure of Lord Auckland's demands. This last in- 
censed the Amirs, endangered the safety of British officers 
in Lower Sindh and bid fair to increase tenfold the 
difficulties with which Pottinger had been struggling for 
weeks : and all in order that Burnes' own minor affairs 
up at Khyrpore might be triumphantly settled out of 

A sharp reprimand sped up the Indus as rapidly as 
might be. But the mischief was done past recall. The 
Amirs were up in arms ; the new treaty rejected and 
Pottinger himself insulted by the men whose confidence 
he had won against difficult odds. The Beluchis began 
to assemble in strength at Hyderabad. Hostilities 
appeared inevitable, and an advance contingent of the 
Bengal army under Sir Willoughby Cotton arrived in 
Sindh with intent to join Macnaghten and his king 
must needs hurry southward in support of Pottinger and 
Sir John Keane at Hyderabad. But the accomplishment 
of these things took time, and January was over before 
Sir Willoughby began his southward march. Mac- 
naghten, all impatience for his triumphal entry, learnt 
with dismay that the troops, without which he could not 
move, had gone off " on a wild goose chase " to Hydera- 
bad. Such was the multiplex confusion wrought by an 
injudicious word or two from one man's mouth, and that 
man, egoist in the grain, openly gloried to Cotton "in 
having done his utmost to provoke the wrath of the 

Macnaghten, blind as Lord Auckland as to the actual 
issues at Hyderabad, saw only the grand enterprise of 
restoring Shah Shu j ah to the throne in danger of post- 
ponement that might conceivably frustrate all. For near 
a month he was forced to remain stationary with a king 
who already began to yearn for the inglorious peace of 


Ludhiana : yet it never occurred to him that the time 
might well have been utilized in sending forward grain 
and forage collected from the country round, in taking 
precautions as to water and generally acquainting himself 
with the barren and difficult route ahead. For the army 
of the Indus was soon to learn, in painful, practical 
fashion, that it might " abound in envoys and major- 
generals and yet grievously suffer from lack of foresight." 

Weeks, that might have been turned to good account, 
were wasted in useless impatience, and equally useless 
remonstrances to Burnes and his fellow secretaries in 
India. Finally though by nature reluctant to assert his 
authority Macnagh ten's anxiety culminated in an em- 
phatic letter to Sir Willoughby Cotton, criticizing his 
latest move and demanding an immediate supply of troops 
sufficient for carrying out "his lordship's plans" in 
Afghanistan. Thus, from the very outset, was struck 
the jarring note of antagonism between the military and 
political chiefs, which remained, throughout, one of the 
most disastrous features of the war. 

But, before Macnagh ten's demand could reach Sir 
Willoughby, word reached him from Hyderabad that he 
need come no farther, for all was well. The weak and 
vacillating princes of Sindh, startled at the hornets' nest 
they had brought about their ears, and uncertain as to 
the number of Anglo-Indian troops, had withdrawn their 
refusal and swallowed the new treaty whole, including 
even the detested tribute to Shah Shujah, whereof an astute 
minister had remarked, not without truth : " It is a joke 
talking of it as a demand from the king. . . . Any 
strength that he has, or may have, proceeds from you : 
so the demand is literally yours." It was acceded none 
the less, and with that concession was overthrown " the 
independence of rulers, our allies by treaty, whom we 


professed to befriend . . . while sanctioning the obsolete 
demand for tribute . . . and unscrupulously subjugat- 
ing their country on the plea that its occupation was 
essential for the defence of our frontier and the security 
of India." 

Such is Sir Henry Durand's unvarnished statement of 
the case, whereto he adds the pungent comment : "If 
want of truth characterized the reasons . . . for invasion, 
. . . want of common acquaintance with the rudiments 
of war marked the course pursued in effecting it. The 
measure was as imbecile in conception as it was iniquitous 
in principle." 

And with its conclusion the first act of the Afghan 
drama came peacefully, if not very creditably, to an end. 

Without shadow of question the outstanding hero of 
that first act was Colonel Henry Pottinger, whose dis- 
cretion and firm, yet forbearing, policy unhurried by 
the misguided hastiness of his own Government, unper- 
turbed by the recriminations of injured Amirs prevented 
hostilities and saved the situation, though to " save the 
face " of his country was an achievement unhappily 
beyond his power. 

And now at length the unwieldy army of the Indus 
turned its back upon Sindh : a veritable moving city, dis- 
tressfully hampered by baggage camels and followers 
without number. For all Sir Henry Fane's insistence 
upon light equipment, human nature prevailed, and paid 
the price accordingly. Eleven years of peace conditions 
had wrought their demoralizing effect. Many young 
officers would as soon have marched without sword or 
pistols as without dressing-case, hair-wash and scented 
soap. Jams and pickles, plate and wax candles were all 
reckoned indispensable to the "efficiency of the corps." 
One regiment refused a proffered gift of cigars on the 


score that their mess baggage already included two camel- 
loads of the best Manillas, and it is on record that a 
certain cavalry officer took with him forty servants : well 
that he should be nameless ! 

But servants, camels and followers all were gone at 
last : and Henry Pottinger sorely tried in health and 
temper by the event of the past five months sat him 
down to write his mind to Government on the subject of 
Alexander Burnes, while at the same time tendering his 
resignation of a post he had held for little more than a 

"I did not know," he wrote, "when accepting the 
appointment of Resident in Sindh that I should be 
colleagued with Sir Alexander Burnes ; nor that he would 
be allowed to act as censor to his superior's dispatches, or 
avail himself of instructions peculiarly mine, to carry out 
his own plans ; and that in opposition to the fact that those 
instructions were to be kept a profound secret till I chose 
to make them known. I may mention that I had already, 
while at Kutch, suffered a long series of indignities from 
the fact that the Bombay Government attached import- 
ance to Burnes 's unfounded misrepresentations, which bid 
fair to ruin my public character, after thirty-three years 
of service, and kept me in constant anxiety and misery 
for two years. All has since been exposed and my 
character cleared. But had I known that my present 
appointment would connect me even slightly with Burnes 
I should have refused it. While Sir Alexander Burnes 
was on his Kabul mission he was under my orders as 
regards Sindh ; yet the moment he crossed the Sindh 
frontier he wrote direct to Government impugning all my 
measures from first to last. The matter was easily 
explained ; but the motive angered me, and I told him so 
in plain terms." 


There followed much more in the same vein. After 
years of silent endurance the dam was down, the stream 
let loose, and the letter stands as a record of all that 
had secretly embittered Colonel Pottinger's political 
connection with Kutch and Sindh. 

Finally came his resignation, couched in terms as plain 
as the rest. " By the time this letter reaches your lord- 
ship the affairs of Sindh will be more or less settled, and 
in consequence I beg to be relieved from a post in which 
heavy official drudgery has been rendered a hundredfold 
more irksome by the trouble I have had with Sir Alex- 
ander Burnes. I have disguised my feelings and kept 
silence for a long while, lest any open discord between 
us should cause public inconvenience ; and my friends 
alone know what it has cost me to suppress, for so long, 
my annoyance and disgust." 

With the signing and sealing of that letter the long 
strain was at an end. The mere writing of it had been a 
relief, and the prospect of escape from a hundred galling 
associations of relief no less ; but it was a matter of months 
before his resignation could take affect. Not until the 
year was nearly ended did he set sail for England, where 
he enjoyed a well-earned rest, till trouble in China took 
him to the world's end, there to win fresh laurels for a 
name already famous throughout India. 

IT was on the 30th of January that Henry Pottinger 
wrote to Lord Auckland resigning his post in Sindh, 
and on that very day his nephew sat alone, as always, in 
the mud-walled box of a room that was his home, review- 
ing the past six weeks with as near an approach to satis- 
faction as he had felt since the day Herat was delivered 
into his charge. 

At last, it seemed, he had hit upon a scheme more or 
less workable, even though one party to its accomplish- 
ment were a Yar Mahomed Khan ; and certain news of 
an approaching British army had wrought a wholesome 
effect on both brothers, twin authors of all discord and 
disaster. Since the caravan incident Pottinger had heard 
no more of slave traffic on a large scale, though he now 
knew his man too well to suppose that smaller secret 
transactions were not still carried on in his despite, even 
as an undercurrent of Persian intrigue persisted beneath 
the most convincing veneer of good behaviour. Plainly 
the best that could be achieved for the honour of the 
country, till strong support should arrive, was the sup- 
pression, at least, of all barefaced, open inhumanity and 
treason in a city known to be under British protection. 

But although secret collusion with Persia was the more 
serious political offence, it was always the tyranny and 
slave traffic that aroused Pottinger 's hottest indignation. 
"Oh, reform it altogether! " was the insistent cry of His 
heart, and there were few serious-minded men of his day 
who did not echo that cry with more or less fervour, 



according to the spirit that was in them. For forty years 
and more the great crusade against negro slavery had 
gone from strength to strength. Wilberforce, Lachery, 
Macaulay and a host of lesser men had exerted themselves 
heroically, not without avail. But here in Central Asia 
it was indigenous to the soil. Arthur Conolly zealot 
and visionary had dreamed golden, impracticable 
dreams of wholesale freedom and conversion ; while 
Eldred Pottinger, even at the risk of political friction, 
waged obstinate war against the accursed traffic, demand- 
ing, with the divine impatience of youth, immediate 
abolition of a habit ingrained in the race and sanctioned 
by Mahomed himself. 

Denunciations and promises having failed, he was now 
trying the more persuasive method of reward. " Yar 
Mahomed Khan and his adherents," he wrote to Sir John 
McNeil! at this time, "had begun to sell the wretched 
inhabitants in droves, notwithstanding my remonstrances ; 
and on procuring coin, I, for the sake of these unfor- 
tunate beings, consented to pay the amount of his and his 
men's allowances, conditionally on their stopping this 
horrible traffic and giving up all control of the taxes ; in 
which situation I am awaiting instructions and aid." 

Thus, for the moment, he had bought comparative 
peace for himself and the people; armed neutrality, 
rather ; for always a hidden undercurrent of antagonism 
kept his senses alert, his nerves at strain. Even among 
his own escort and servants there was none to whom he 
dared trust save his old comrade, the brave but thick- 
headed soldier, Allah Dad Khan. For the rest, he knew 
himself surrounded by spies eager to twist his simplest 
words and acts into proof of secret machinations against 
the Herat Government. Unable themselves to enjoy life 
without the stimulant of feud and intrigue, they could 


not credit the existence of a Government agent who 
failed to make good his obvious facilities in that direction. 

Of late, renewed Persian intercourse had somewhat dis- 
turbed his more friendly relations with the Wazir, and in 
consequence Yar Mahomed's followers had been allowed, 
without check or punishment, to gratify their barbarous 
taste for amusement at the expense of those whom Pot- 
linger made it peculiarly his business to protect. And 
now, at the month's end, when the promised allowances 
fell due, he asked himself, was he justified in keeping his 
share of the bargain for the sake of peace, when these 
incorrigible Afghans failed to keep theirs? 

Refusal would certainly involve him in renewed friction, 
of which his soul was unspeakably weary. It would be so 
much simpler to ignore awkward details and pay the price 
of peace. Nerves and temper had been a good deal tried 
during the past week, and his health already showed signs 
of resenting the long strain put upon it ; the ill-cooked, 
greasy food, and the insanitary conditions of Herat at 
its best. 

" Better pay the men and let be," urged inclination. 

" Is that true peace which is bought at the cost of 
self-respect? " queried Conscience; and, as if in reply, 
came sounds of arrival, footsteps, voices. Evidently a 
visitor of rank ; for there were followers also. 

Then the door opened, and Taj Mahomed a man of 
his escort announced, "Sirdar Shere Mahomed Khan." 

Visits from the Sirdar were infrequent, and Pottinger 
had a premonition of trouble even while he returned, in 
due form, the fulsome greeting : " May you be in the 
sanctuary of the Creator, preserved from all accident and 
mischance of the world." 

" I am honoured by your foot upon my threshold, 
Sirdar Sahib," said he, not without a tinge of irony; and 


saluting the attendant Khans, bade them be seated upon 
rugs laid out for that purpose; Shere Mahomed and 
himself occupying the only chairs. 

"I am come on account of my brother, Pottinger 
Sahib," the Afghan announced bluntly, without the 
decorative preamble dear to his race. "He sends word 
by way of reminder that, the month being ended, he 
desires you should muster his men to-morrow and pay 
them according to promise made." 

Even had Pottinger 's conscience been of the docile 
order, tone and request combined would have turned the 
scale against peace. 

"Have I shown myself so forgetful that I should need 
the reminder? " he asked, a note of challenge in his voice. 
" And has the Wazir so faithfully kept his word that he 
can without confusion of face demand the fulfilment of 
mine ? Promise of payment was made upon condition, as 
you know ; and you know also, even as he does, whether 
or no it is justly due." 

At that Shere Khan who was evidently in an evil 
mood flung restraint and common courtesy to the winds. 

"You refuse payment? Bismillah! This comes of 
putting faith in Feringhi liars ! " he shouted, squaring 
his shoulders pugnaciously as if to overawe the shorter, 
sturdier Englishman. And before Pottinger could rectify 
his misconception he launched into a torrent of expostu- 
lation adorned with choice flowers of Afghan abuse. 
" Much advantage to us that we refrain from extortion 
that is our right," he concluded furiously, "if we are to 
be cheated of compensation because certain low-born men 
have suffered at the hands of the soldier-tog. They be 
not babes, these men, that we can keep them in swaddling 
clothes. When the desire is upon them they are as fed 
horses in the dawn, careless of bit or bridle; and how 


should this dog attempt to curb them with a silken 
thread ! " 

The abusive epithet, fairly hurled in Pottinger's face, 
set his hot blood tingling, and he spoke with sudden 
imperious heat. 

" That is enough, Sirdar Sahib. I request that you 
leave my house at once." 

But the Afghan's blood was up also. "I go at no 
man's bidding till my business be done," he retorted, his 
black eyes flashing defiance. "Wah-illah! You arro- 
gant English deem yourselves kings of all the world! " 

"Sirdar Sahib, I have said that is enough," Pottinger 
repeated, dismissing further talk with a peremptory 
gesture. " As for the Wazir's business I have not yet 
refused payment. But I will settle the matter with Yar 
Mahomed in person ; not with one who has insulted both 
myself and my Government. It is enough. Go at once, 
or by Allah, my men shall turn you out." 

The big Afghan stared insolently. " Turn me out ! 
A likely tale ! " 

"Taj Mahomed! Allah Dad!" shouted Pottinger, 
and, prompt as thought, two Heratis of his escort stood in 
the doorway : not Allah Dad, who had gone on an errand 
to the bazaar. 

" The Sirdar Sahib hath insulted me and refused to 
leave my house. Put him out! " 

But for all the anger in his eyes and command in his 
tone, the men's hesitation was evident. They would 
cheerfully have died for the Englishman in open fight ; 
but fear of the Afghan ran in their blood. 

Sherc Mahomed's triumph was complete. He laughed 
aloud. "Inshallah! Said I not so? There is no man 
in this house, Pottinger Sahib, who dares put me to the 

It was a challenge, direct, unmistakable and Pot- 


linger 's Irish temper flared up in response. Without 
further waste of words, he gripped the Afghan by the 
shoulders and forced him to his feet. Shere Mahomed, 
nothing dismayed, would have resisted even to violence 
had not the startled onlookers risen up and forced the 
two men apart. 

"Of what use to make further trouble, my friend? " 
urged a placable old Khan, securing the Sirdar's arm and 
unobtrusively propelling him towards the door. "Pot- 
tinger Sahib hath right of command in his own house." 

" 'Tis a right I am not like to dispute with him again !" 
Shere Mahomed answered sullenly, and permitted himself 
to be withdrawn into the street. 

Left alone, Eldred Pottinger sat down beside his table 
and leaned his head upon his hand, wondering, between 
anxiety and exasperation, what would happen next. Quite 
possibly an Afghan's insolence and his own hot temper 
had cancelled, in ten minutes, the work of weeks. If 
recrimination followed in place of apology, he might even 
be obliged to leave the city; to reap the odium and 
mortification of Government reproof as the net result of 
his great adventure. Bitterly he regretted his momentary 
loss of self-control ; while yet he was fain to admit that, 
in the circumstances, few Englishmen and no Irishman 
would have acted otherwise. 

Hark ! What was that ? He sat upright and listened 
in a tense stillness. 

Distant shouts drew rapidly nearer; nor was he long 
left in doubt as to their meaning. Recrimination it was 
to be and of the swiftest. Without a word of inquiry, 
the Wazir had presumably turned the soldiers loose to 
revenge themselves according to their own will and 


Pottinger sprang up and shouted for his men. They 
appeared forthwith, the two faint-hearted ones in obvious 

" Oh, Sahib Sahib, consider now if it was well even 
for your Honour to lay hands on the Sirdar," Taj 
Mahomed ventured, palm set to palm. " The soldier-Zog 
are in the streets stirring up the people. Listen ! Even 
now they are entering your Honour's courtyard, doubtless 
to plunder our houses and dishonour our women." 

"Enough of chatter! " Pottinger broke in sharply. 
" Why is the courtyard left empty? Where are the rest 
of my people? " 

"Save for ourselves and two others, all are gone to the 
market-place or bazaar. Hazur, what now remains to 
be done? " 

"Nothing but to bar the doors and await the issue. 
I have many well-wishers among the people and the 
merchants. It will be seen." 

Pottinger spoke quietly, yet not without a shade of 
bitterness. To be condemned to inaction was the crown- 
ing misery of an anxious situation. But resistance were 
worse than folly. He could only rely upon the good-will 
of his friends and of the people as a whole. 

Suddenly the door of his inner room was flung open, 
and he swung round to discover that the supposed intruder 
was Allah Dad Khan, still breathless from his flight 
through the streets. 

" Praise God your Honour is safe ! " he panted. " All 
who were with me have been seized by the men of the 
Wazir. I, only, fled in secret through a friend's house, 
while they quarrelkd amongst themselves." Suddenly 
prostrating himself, he saluted his master's foot. " Haziir 
what is this evil that hath fallen, swift and sudden as a 
stone out of the sky? " 


A loud, hurried knocking at the main door interrupted 
him ; and a babel of sound without announced that the 
courtyard was in possession of the enemy. 

"Who is it that knocks? " cried Pottinger. 

"Syud Mahomed Alayar and three friends," came the 
welcome answer. Then Pottinger himself unbarred the 
door, and let in four Syuds from the valley of Pishin ; 
holy men, not to be rashly set at naught even by the 
lawless soldiery of Yar Mahomed Khan. 

Fervent embraces ensued, fervent protestations of a 
devotion already proved in deed as in word. Pottinger 
briefly accounted for the sudden upheaval, and Syud 
Mahomed, a venerable elder, nodded approbation. 

"You did well indeed, my friend. We heard merely 
that there had been high words between yourself and the 
Sirdar ; and rising up, straightway we came to your house, 
here to remain till this madness be past. If there be any 
service we may render, in proof of friendship and esteem, 
speak only. It is done. We will all be put to the sword 
before any man shall lay hands upon your honourable 
self, whom Allah augment to the seat of magnificence and 

"Syud Sahib, I believe you and thank you from my 
heart," Pottinger answered simply. Personal risk, as 
such, concerned him little, if at all. But the sincere 
attachment of these good men moved him to the depths, 
and adequate speech was difficult. " Should matters 
indeed become serious, it will not be the first time I have 
owed my safety to a Syud of Pishin ! What think you ? 
Is it an outbreak of the soldiers only, or will they 
encourage a tumult among the people? " 

"That never!" the Syud declared stoutly. "Yar 
Mahomed hath enough of shrewdness to know it were 
beyond even his power to achieve. Heard you not of 

S 2 


his answer to the Persian emissary only last week ? 
* How can we turn this man out,' said he, ' when he is 
giving us all things, even feeding our beggars ; and has 
made every person in Herat his own? ' 

Pottinger smiled. " A cunning answer, worthy of him 
who made it. Yet I am well aware that if ever Iran 
sent more than promises, no such scruple would restrain 
him for a moment. And now since there is nothing to 
be done, let us at least refresh ourselves and wait upon 

Bowls of tea, with chupatties and curds, were duly set 
before each guest ; while the talk turned mainly upon 
that one supreme topic, the upward march of the British 
army, which it was believed would have a profound effect, 
not merely on the fate of Afghanistan, but upon the 
whole of Central Asia. 

The tumult, without, waxed and waned fitfully till near 
sunset. Then, of a sudden, the voice of Shere Mahomed 
was heard issuing peremptory orders; and before Pot- 
tinger had time to guess what this might bode, there fell 
a renewed knocking on the outer door. 

To his call "Who is it? " came the reply: "A mes- 
senger bringing explanation and apology from the 

The voice was the voice of Shere Mahomed, and Pot- 
tinger smiled at so speedy a return to the scene of his 
discomfiture. As for the explanation and apology, he 
already knew too well the fashion and the value of both. 
But when he would have risen, Syud Mahomed put forth 
a detaining hand. 

"Not yet shall he be let in, my friend. I myself will 
go out to hear his message and speak my mind upon the 
matter. Then I will return, bringing you word." 

The word he brought, after a heated parley in the 


courtyard, was couched in terms that began to grow 
wearisome with repetition. Yar Mahomed, it seemed, 
was in no way responsible for the misbehaviour of his 
men, who, being assembled, and hearing a rumour that 
payment would be denied them, had rushed forth without 
orders to plunder the Feringhi's house. Only within the 
hour had the disgraceful affair come to their master's 
knowledge; and straightway he had despatched his 
brother to drive off the marauders, apologize for the 
disturbances, and leave word that reparation should be 

"As for Shere Mahomed," the Syud concluded, a 
gleam of scorn in his eyes, " when I reproached him for 
using so disgraceful an epithet to your honourable self, 
he exclaimed in surprise that I must surely have mis- 
understood your account of the matter; or you, in a 
moment of heat, must have misconstrued his meaning. 
He now swears, by all the names of God, that the ex- 
pression was applied to himself ; and the Khans who came 
with him assert that it seemed so to them at the time. 
What would you have? " 

He turned out both hands, and the scorn in his eyes 
was reflected in the blue ones opposite. 

"If I misjudged him, I am sorry and will apologize," 
Pottinger answered, not without amusement at the politic 
change of front. " But the Sirdar spoke in anger ; and 
knowing him for a man little given to self -deprecation, I 
may possibly be excused for my lack of understanding. 
The disturbance is over, then ? He has dismissed the 
Wazir's men?" 

"So he said." 

It soon transpired that he had merely dismissed his 
brother's soldiery, to replace them by a strong guard of 
his own ; and, except that none dare hinder the Syuds 


from passing out and in, Pottinger would have found 
himself in polite confinement, effectually cut off from 
intercourse with the city. But, in the East, saintliness is 
a more practical asset than anywhere else on earth ; so 
the holy men from Pishin went and came again unchal- 
lenged, bringing their mats for sleeping and all neces- 
saries for the evening meal. 

Save for this significant fact of detention the outburst 
of ill feeling appeared to have calmed down ; and when, 
after dark the voice of a relation was heard calling Taj 
Mahomed to the door, the man without hesitation 
opened it and looked forth. 

Instantly his arm was gripped as in a vice, the hand 
that clung to the lintel cut off at a blow, and he was 
dragged screaming out into the night. 

At his first yell of terror Pottinger leapt forward with 
blazing eyes, followed by two of his escort eager for 
instant retaliation. But as the door slammed to he 
checked himself with a muttered oath, and the Syud, 
rising also, laid a persuasive hand upon his arm. 

" My friend, to attempt a rescue is to set foot in an 
open trap and play the game of Shere Mahomed Khan." 

Pottinger nodded reluctant assent. " It would lead to 
actual fighting, of course. And they might make that 
the signal for a general massacre? " 

"Without doubt such is the thought of their hearts." 

The Englishman let out his breath in a sigh of ex- 
asperation, and restrained his excited men with a gesture 
of command. 

"The Syud Sahib speaks wisdom. There is nothing to 
gain by impatience. Let all the doors be secured, and 
we will abide the issue of the morrow." 


MORNING brought his old friend Mirza Ibrahim, steeped 
to the lips in apology and abasement, wherein Yar 
Mahomed excelled by proxy. 

The seizure and mutilation of Taj Mahomed lent a 
more serious aspect to the affair; and if the man were 
not honestly ashamed he was at least honestly fearful of 
the possible results. But Pottinger was in no mood for 
the sounding brass and tinkling cymbals of Oriental 
apology. He sent back word that he required first to 
know the meaning of such barbarous and inhospitable 

"If, in any respect, I have done wrong," said he, 
" surely it was due to my services, if not to my Govern- 
ment, and some inquiry should have been made, and an 
apology demanded, with the alternative of formal dis- 
missal and a complaint to the British Government. As 
for the Sirdar, I am ready to accept the word of his 
followers that the abusive epithet which angered me 
referred only to himself; and I will send him a dress of 
honour in acknowledgment of my mistake. Also, having 
promised to pay your men, I will keep my word regard- 
less of their deserts. In return I ask only for leave to 
depart from your city before worse befall me." 

But, as usual, this was the last request Yar Mahomed 
was minded to grant. Apology, promises, reparation 
these cost little and could always be had for the asking. 
Shere Mahomed came yet again to proffer them and to 
entreat that Pottinger, in token of forgiveness, would 
meet his old friend and ally at the Sirdar's house that 



same evening. All this denoted a wholesome fear of 
British retribution ; and Pottinger, mindful of injunctions 
to keep the peace at any price, decided to accept explana- 
tion and invitation for what they were worth. 

The meeting passed off without friction. Yar 
Mahomed's alarm was, for once, so genuine that Pottinger 
was the more inclined to leniency. Personally he would 
forgive all that had passed. He would ask Government 
to overlook the insult and the uncalled-for mutilation of 
his servant. But if only for the sake of his country's 
prestige he demanded that the Shah send an apology 
to Calcutta, promising never again to lay hands on the 
servant of a British subject; that Taj Mahomed be 
presented with a dress of honour and a grant of land in 
addition to money given by himself; that all plundered 
properties be restored and the plunderers punished. 
Finally he decreed that the Wazir, with all the Herat 
chiefs, should assemble at his house to make a formal 
profession of regret. Thence they should escort him to 
the city, and publicly install him at the Pae-i-Takht ; that 
the people who had seen him set at naught might also 
see him re-established by those responsible for the tumult. 

It was an elaborate programme ; but by this time 
Pottinger knew his noble allies well enough to perceive, 
and boldly apply, the sole means of holding their Afghan- 
ism in check. If this, the first attempt at open violence, 
were not dealt with publicly and decisively, his position 
would soon become impossible; and, despite his inter- 
cession, he looked that his own Government should 
support him at least by a formal censure of Yar 
Mahomed's entire conduct since the siege was raised. 

For the present, thanks to his own promptitude and 
decision, backed by the support of the Syuds, his victory 
was complete ; his personal prestige undamaged by a bolt 
from the blue that, irresolutely met, might have ruined 


all. But an outbreak so uncalled-for increased Pot- 
tinger's conviction that, without military support of some 
kind, the foothold of Britain in Herat would never be 
made secure. From every side came rumours of ferment 
and unrest. Mahomed Shah renewed his preparations for 
return; and the eyes of all looked southward some in 
apprehension, some in expectation for the coming of 
that formidable army which alone had power to restore 
law and order in the land. 

Much of this Pottinger set forth in a letter to Mac- 
naghten, together with a straightforward account of the 
late disturbance; neither glossing over nor excusing his 
own outburst of temper, which had unquestionably 
brought matters to a climax. He strongly advocated 
pushing on a brigade from Kandahar so soon as that 
city had been occupied or even invested : adding, in con- 
clusion : " I hope you will not consider my offering advice 
officious. I feel encouraged to do so by being on the 
spot and seeing the eyes of every person turned on us: 
I mean with regard to the advance of our troops. I have 
not had any letters from India since the 12th of January, 
and no intelligence at all from Sir John McNeill. Kohun- 
dil Khan still persists in keeping the Kandahar road 
blockaded, and for fifteen days not a soul has arrived from 
that place. If grain does not soon come in, the state of 
this place will be dreadful ; and I, for want of confidential 
aid, can do nothing." 

Before this letter could be despatched, a heavy snow- 
fall throughout the country conspired with unfriendly 
chiefs to make the lonely Englishman's isolation still 
more complete. But although he could do nothing with- 
out the walls, and no word of human fellowship could 
reach him, there remained, as always, much to be done 
and much to contend against within. The restoration 
of armed neutrality implied no respite from the system 


of secret espionage which incessantly kept his nerves at 
strain and hampered his every act and word ; so that 
he dared scarcely engage a servant, lest he should be 
taking into his household some creature of the Wazir, 
paid to spy upon his talk and correspondence. Even 
when all seemed quietest he knew himself to be living 
on the edge of a crater by no means extinct : nor could 
he ever guess from morning to morning what new 
exigencies or unexpected demands the day might bring 
forth. With little knowledge, even now, of Govern- 
ment's intentions, with no political experience, and none 
to lighten the twofold burden of work and responsibility, 
he must somehow contrive to keep up friendly negotiations 
with Afghan chiefs, increasingly suspicious of British 
designs upon their country; must furnish his own 
Government with reports as long and detailed as distract- 
ing conditions would permit ; feed the starving ; contend 
with threatened return of famine ; thoroughly sift all 
rumours or information brought in by passing Kafilas, 
and dispense rough justice in person at the Pae-i-Takht. 
Tedious and distracting duties, these last, for a conscienti- 
ous man ; the more so, that he was constantly called upon 
to inquire into allegations and remonstrances against those 
very authorities with whom peace at any price was, in 
effect, the one clear command laid upon him by Govern- 

Among his manifold responsibilities was none more 
complex, more harassing, than that of handling Govern- 
ment money and securing it against theft. Impossible 
to keep much under his own roof, without the fact 
even to the precise amount becoming known ; which in 
a city chronically disordered were sheer incentive to 
aggression. Equally impossible to establish a straight- 
forward account with a Hindoo soulcar. 1 The man would 
1 Banker. 


promptly have been terrorized by Yar Mahomed into 
supplying detailed information of Pottinger's money 
transactions : and very early in the day he had realized 
the importance of keeping the Herat authorities as 
ignorant as might be of the means and resources at his 
command. To this end he kept hidden in his quarters 
only enough gold to meet any sudden demand. Any 
other sums he might possess were scattered among various 
soukars, so that even they might be kept uncertain of the 
total amount. 

Even thus, Yar Mahomed could not resist periodic 
attempts at solving a problem that touched him more 
nearly than any other. Already, in October, he had 
sent for the principal Hindu souJcars and, by methods 
of persuasion peculiarly his own, had tried to discover 
the exact amount disbursed : without his wonted success. 
Now again, in February, he unearthed a convenient pre- 
text for having these men arrested, their offices occupied, 
and their accounts strictly examined. But between their 
loyalty to Pottinger and his own skilful complications, 
they were neither willing nor able to supply exact figures ; 
and Yar Mahomed was outwitted at every turn. 

The Persian Munshis were a more fearful folk ; and 
Pottinger knew well that, under stress of terror, they 
would render account of his words and acts, and of his 
letters also, unless the utmost secrecy were observed in 
their writing and dispatch. Only with his good friends 
the Syuds of Pishin he dealt openly in his own person, 
alike from gratitude and good policy. For the sanctity 
of these men and the universal respect they commanded 
made their support a practical necessity, if he were to 
hold the position he had won for himself at Herat. 

This undercurrent of enmity, involving ceaseless vigil- 
ance and the meeting of guile with guile, defeated all 
attempts at regular office work or the keeping of clear, 


detailed accounts, which must yet by some means be 
supplied. The fact that he could not even employ a 
regular Munshi made the mere amount of writing a 
formidable burden. As regards money, it was impossible 
at the time to do more than keep a secret record of actual 
bills drawn, month by month, to defray the price of 
friendship with Yar Mahomed Khan at his own figure. 
That the figure in question would prove a high one was 
daily made more evident by the continuous outflow of 
ducats and drafts on the Indian Government, without 
which it seemed impossible to avoid friction or keep the 
wheels of state in working order. 

The abiding problem, this, of all political pioneering 
in Asia, more especially where friendship is known to 
be an important item in the programme : and almost 
invariably the agent first in the field has been censured 
for undue lavishness. Yet it should be remembered that 
almost as invariably the choice has lain between such 
censure and the dread word "failure," with the lasting 
slur it leaves upon a man, no matter how impeccable his 
motives, nor how hard the iron pressure of circumstance. 
Put it how we may, the propitiation of chiefs beyond 
the Indian border is, frankly, a matter of bribery ; though 
subsidy has the more becoming sound. Kashmir, 
Burmah, and the petty chiefs of the Hindu Khush, are, 
or were, "priced," so to speak, according to their vary- 
ing degrees of importance. The very Pathans along the 
North- West Frontier have only been kept quiet, of late 
years, by a judicious prescription of " tribal allowances " 
tinctured with fines : while the present Amir of Afghan- 
istan receives, in exchange for a somewhat unstable friend- 
ship, the lordly allowance of 120,000 a year. 

Now in 1839 though the value of Herat may have 
been overestimated the Wazir was, without question, 
the most able and powerful figure in Central Asia; not 


even excepting Dost Mahomed Khan : and British anxiety 
for his good-will being sufficiently obvious, he was not the 
man to sell his treasure for a song. That the bargain 
might have been more cheaply attained by a political 
of wider experience and higher official standing is an 
assertion easier to make than to prove. Lacking both, 
Pottinger could but do his utmost ; whereby he, at least, 
achieved conciliation, and gave Herat itself a new lease of 
life. And if the cost seemed excessive as indeed it was 
after-events gave ample proof that the fault lay with 
the policy rather than with the man. 

But the end was not yet : and in the meanwhile, 
enough for the day was the demand thereof. As though 
these did not sufficiently absorb his time and energies, 
he devoted his evenings to rendering the New Testa- 
ment into Pushtoo, a task that came as pure rest and 
refreshment after the harassing duties and interruptions 
of the day. 

February brought the first ill news of Stoddart's 
imprisonment : and Pottinger knowing that it might go 
hard with his imperious-tempered friend promptly dis- 
patched public servants, with letters to the Wazir of 
Bokhara, inquiring after Stoddart's health and welfare 
in the name of the British Government. At the same 
time he privately entrusted two reliable men of his own 
with a packet of personal letters, and laid urgent com- 
mands upon them to help " the Sahib " in every possible 
way. Lastly, knowing that, in such a predicament, lack 
of money might be a life and death matter, he sent advices 
to Indians in Bokhara, bidding them honour Stoddart's 
drafts upon himself up to the amount of two thousand 
ducats. It was the utmost he could do in the way of 
friendship : and praying that it might serve, he lulled his 
own secret fears with the anodyne of work. 


As the month drew to an end he began to look eagerly 
for Lord Auckland's remonstrance on the graceless treat- 
ment of his representatives in October : remonstrance that 
Pottinger counted on to strengthen his own hand and 
curb the increasing arrogance of Yar Mahomed Khan. 
This last was rendered the more imperative by rumours 
of a secret coalition between Persia, Herat and the local 
chiefs to oppose Shah Shujah's return to the throne. 
Feasible or no, it served to show which way the wind 
blew, and to increase Pottinger 's anxiety for that decisive 
Government support which Macnagh ten's letter must 
surely contain. 

He was not kept waiting over-long. On the 13th of 
March it came. 

Eagerly, almost hopefully, Pottinger broke the great 
red seal. But before his eyes had scanned the first few 
paragraphs hope gave place to incredulous surprise, and 
that in turn to bitter mortification as conviction grew upon 
him that, beneath the courteous formalities of officialdom, 
lay a definite note of disapproval almost amounting to 
blame; regardless of the fact that the principals in the 
quarrel had been Colonel Stoddart and Yar Mahomed 
Khan. In addition he found conciliatory enclosures to 
the address of Shah Kamran and his Wazir ; -and it 
needed but this to make his sense of humiliation complete. 

Impossible for the man of theory sitting at ease in his 
office chair, a thousand miles away, to realize the effect 



of his own passing annoyance on the man of action, who 
has striven and endured, month after month, in the 
certain hope that his efforts will be recognized, his posi- 
tion upheld. To Eldred Pottinger, who had fronted 
danger, sickness, privation undismayed, this last unkindest 
cut seemed harder to bear than all that had gone before. 

The actual text of that disheartening letter has not 
survived, but the gist of it may be inferred from Pot- 
tinger's reply, written two days later, when the ferment 
of brain and heart had sufficiently cooled down to admit 
of some attempt at self-justification. Futile it might be 
and most often is ; but it was not in human nature to 
keep silence under a dual infliction that he could not but 
regard as at once impolitic and undeserved. 

Far on into the night he wrote, and re-wrote, till he 
had achieved the rough copy as it still stands in the slim 
native book containing his official letters of that year. 
Then the fair copy was begun 


; i I had the pleasure to receive your letter of 
the 2nd of February, the night before last." The 
ironic formality raised the ghost of a smile. "But 
it was with the greatest pain and mortification I 
gathered from it that his Lordship the Governor-- 
General, and yourself, disapproved of my conduct 
and considered it indiscreet and untimely. With 
respect to the remarks you have made on my inter- 
ference with the internal affairs of this place (and 
from which, as you rightly conjecture, all the diffi- 
culties arose) it was by the express desire, solicitation 
and even entreaty of the authorities themselves. 
The people, perfectly ruined by the calamities of the 
siege, tyrannized over by lawless followers and fear- 


ing a famine, were preparing for flight. The 
authorities were well aware of their unpopularity 
and unfaithfulness, and knew they had no chance 
of preventing complete desertion of the country but 
by procuring us to guarantee justice and good faith. 

"I was also aware of this state of things, and 
agreed to guarantee their promises. The good effect 
of this was immediately seen ; but the authorities 
from want (as they alleged) were not able to keep 
them ; nor I to meet their demands for money. I 
had no idea of the intention of Government regard- 
ing this country ; and the conduct, demands and ex- 
pectations of its rulers left me no hope that we could 
ever live quietly in alliance with or support of them. 
So, in the absence of instructions, I had to keep to 
general promises, of the British Government sup- 
porting them as long as they acted in conformity 
with justice and our wishes. I particularly stood on 
the point of slavery, as it gave at any time a sufficient 
cause to break with them ; while it is universally 
execrated by all people except those attached to the 
present ruler. . . . 

" My interference was strictly confined to urging 
the authorities to keep their promises, and from the 
engagements I had guaranteed I had no course left 
but that which placed me in opposition to the 
authorities and led to the estrangement. 

" With respect to the people it is universally 
wished that we should occupy these countries for 
ourselves, and believed that we will do so. All my 
language to the contrary is of no use. As to the 
alarm it would create, the advance of our army is 
believed by every one to be for our own sakes, and 
that Shah Shujah is merely used as a name to cover 


our aggression. You will now be received with as 
great, and I think greater, opposition than if you 
had not brought the Shah. . . . 

44 1 observe by your letter to Yar Mahomed Khan 
that you have requested him to send a trustworthy 
person to meet and treat with you at Kandahar. I 
have frequently urged him to send an envoy to India, 
to acknowledge his obligation to the Government, 
and he has put it off till now ; but on receiving your 
letter he has made up his mind to send the Topshy 
Bashy, Naju Khan, who is his firmest adherent and, 
indeed, the only man of sense about him, though he 
is shrewd, avaricious and fond of the bottle. 

"If any of my acts here appear indiscreet or un- 
conciliatory I beg to point out that I was, on account 
of the guarantee given, obliged to make as public as 
possible my disapproval and disallowance of Yar 
Mahomed's acts, for the sake of preserving our 
reputation for good faith. Being at such a distance 
from instructions, if I had waited till Government 
expressed its displeasure at the Herati's breach of 
faith, our character would have been sullied for 
integrity and uprightness; which, at this time, I 
consider of far greater importance than conciliating 
two or three unpopular chiefs. And I flatter myself 
you will find, on inquiry, that I have left no means 
untried to preserve the good wishes of the Afghans 
in general. Grain and a small moveable force are 
absolutely necessary here. I beg, however, that you 
will not arrange anything regarding this place at 
Kandahar ; but, if possible, visit this yourself. For 
I think that unless you do so my conduct may be 
liable to misconception ; as it is impossible to describe 
the state of the country or the conduct of its rulers. 


" Unexperienced as I am in affairs of Government, 
I trust that, for my guidance in future, I may have 
the benefit of your personal instructions ; that in 
judging my past conduct you will favour me by 
reviewing it on the spot ; bearing in mind that I was 
totally without instructions, or even information as 
to the intentions of Government, while the people 
with whom I was situated were strangers to probity 
and humanity. 

"The Persians still occupy Ghorian, and as long 
as it remains in their hands the people here remain 
insecure and doubtful. They are still prosecuting 
their intrigues . . . and if we do not aid them they 
will and must throw themselves on some Government 
that will." 

And so an end; as far as any incident of human life 
can ever be said to end. For Pottinger there remained 
nothing but to lull disappointment and pain by renewed 
endeavour, though his confidence was shaken and his 
sanguine spirit clouded as never yet. 

Happily the same Kasid had brought personal letters 
to cheer him and distract his thoughts. They were the 
first that had come to hand since the middle of January, 
and to them he reverted thankfully so soon as the 
unpalatable " official " could be dismissed from his mind. 

Goodly budgets of news from his Uncles Henry and 
William a Major stationed at Bombay and a close- 
written, characteristic effusion from his brother Tom, a 
lad of lively intelligence, no little promise and a very 
sustaining belief in himself to boot. Judging from occa- 
sional letters, both he and John were like to become 
soldiers of undoubted energy and ability ; cleverer, in 
many respects, and endowed with a keener eye for 


practical advantages than their distinguished brother. 
His golden strain of idealism gave them, no doubt, a 
vague, pleasant sense of superiority in worldly wisdom, 
dearly though they loved him, and keenly as they relished 
his sudden leap into fame. Tom wrote from Delhi, where 
he was stationed with his regiment, the 54th Native 
Infantry ; and his artless, eminently practical suggestions 
for prompt self-advertisement must have set the older 
man smiling for all his heaviness of spirit. 

"My DEAR ELDRED," it ran, 

" I have intended writing to you for some time, 
but your movements have been so variously reported 
by the newspapers that I send this as a sort of 
random shot. . . . 

"John mentions that my father entertains some 
wild scheme of coming to Bombay as agent for the 
Asphalt Association, which is some damned Specula- 
tion for covering roads with Asphalt, etc. . . . They 
pretend to offer my father 600 a year ; but on his 
having gone to the expense and trouble of the voyage 
to India, I suspect he will find that the bubble has 
burst, and he allowed to return at his own leisure and 
expense! His inducement for doing so is that he 
had given up the rents of the Kilmore estate for three 
years for the purpose of purchasing it out, which 
will be a great advantage to you, as the property in 
some years will be, I believe, very valuable. 

" In the meantime my father has little or nothing 
to live on, and has been trying without success to 
get some Government appointment. But as this is 
a Speculation I really believe he would ralher have it 
than a certainty. It is a most extraordinary thing 
that a man of such splendid talents and excellent 
T 2 


sense should be so easily gulled by every fool or 
knave he comes across ; and although never success- 
ful in any undertaking (and I have known a dozen 
at least) he is as sanguine of this succeeding as if he 
had never miscarried in any. I intend writing to 
him, strongly advising him to have nothing to say 
to any Speculation ; but he is so well aware that I 
hate the name of one even, that I am afraid that 
he will not pay much attention to me, for which 
reason I wish you would also write to the same effect. 

" I am delighted to hear of your success at Herat, 
and trust that you will be able to restore our family 
to its proper station. Save all cash you can and get 
back, if possible, the ' dirty acres ' ; as in these days 
family honour, or anything else, is a mere name 
without money ; and at home, were you another Sir 
Isaak Newton or a Napoleon, without cash, you 
would be looked on as inferior to a grocer with 
money. So save what you can and buy back the 
estates. Above all do not be fool enough to marry ! 

"Another thing you ought to do immediately is 
to write an account of the siege of Herat, etc., 
etc., interlarded with something of the views of the 
Russians, North American Indians, etc., etc., or 
anything upon British India. It will be sure to take ; 
and you may depend there is no getting on without 
appearing in print. Look at that humbug, Sir A. 
Burnes, for instance ; a fellow who by all accounts is 
much fitter for a Grub Street author than anything 
else. What has he done, even as a traveller, com- 
pared to you? And yet if you do not publish, you 
may wait a thousand years and you will not be 
rewarded like him. The great thing is to bring your- 
self into notice at Home. This has always been the 


mistake of our family : we've always been contented 
with our own actions without making every one 
else acquainted with them, and what has been the 

66 Let me advise you seriously to write if it be 
only a pamphlet and publish it in London, after 
advertising it in every paper in Great Britain and 
Ireland ! You will then become celebrated, and that 
is all a man requires to get on. Depend upon it, it 
will be time and money well spent. But do it imme- 
diately, as the Indian and Russian fever seems strong 
at home at present ; but in the course of six months 
some person who stands on his head, or speaks the 
unknown tongues, or animal magnetism, or some 
other nonsense will be the rage. . . . 

" I wrote to Mr. Macnaghten, to whom I brought 
out letters, asking him to obtain leave for me to join 
the Army of the Indus ; and the other day received 
an answer, saying that until I had served my two 
years it would be impossible to do so ; but that then 
the Government, on my uncle's and on your account, 
would be most favourably disposed towards me and 
that he would assist me in any way in his power. 
What a pity I did not enter the service five years 
sooner. This is a tolerably long letter considering 
the chances there are against its ever reaching you. 
Write soon, and believe me, 

"Your affectionate brother, 


Needless to add that the sagacious advice, tendered in 
all seriousness, was reprehensibly ignored. A geo- 
graphical record of his journey he fully hoped to achieve; 
but that descriptive pamphlet of the siege was never 


written, nor even thought upon by the hero of the de- 
fence. True heroism is sublimely unaware of itself. It 
remained for Major Todd to enlighten Government, and 
Sir John Kay to enlighten England, as to the full extent 
of Eldred Pottinger 's gallantry and zeal. But if he 
ignored his brother's advice, he did not fail to bear in 
mind his desire for active service : a desire tragically 

The letter of congratulation from Major William Pot- 
tinger in Bombay was in much the same cheerful vein as 
that of his nephew from Delhi, and expressed, though 
less urgently, the same hope of future publication. 

" It would be useless for me to add my mite to what 
has been so forcibly expressed by the Governor-General ; 
but I trust ... we shall one day have a full account of 
all your travels and operations, from your first setting 
out from Bhooj up to the day on which the Persians raised 
the siege of your city! " 

For the rest, personalities, local gossip, giving a 
glimpse of social Bombay in '39 the ride at dusk, the 
palanquin at noon, the jealousies and criticisms en- 
gendered by the last list of C.B.'s; the "gentle and 
amiable " young ladies of the station, on whom Major 
Pottinger dilated for the benefit of his banished nephew. 

" The chief beauties here are Miss Voyle, a great pet of 
Mrs. Pottinger 's, and a Miss Hewitt, whom Ensign 
Montague saved from destruction last Evening when her 
Horse ran away with her. They are both little angels ; I 
wish you had either of them (lawfully, of course) to solace 
you at Herat." 

And did Eldred Pottinger, in his loneliness, echo that 
wish ? Did it, by chance, stir a sleeping memory, or lure 
him, even for an hour, from the harassment of Afghan 
politics, to vague, unformed visions of a future shared 


with the one woman who should fill out and complete 
him by possessing all the gracious elements he conspicu- 
ously lacked : the one woman for whom, it may safely be 
said, he would have been better able to lay down his life 
than bring himself to tell her so. 

Had there ever been, would there ever be, for him that 
divine folly, whose price is above rubies? The specula- 
tion is irresistible as it is unanswerable. No trace of it 
in letters or journals. Little revelation, anywhere, of 
his attitude towards this supremely human element in 
life, beyond the native chivalry of the masculine man 
and a deep affection for children, that found some out- 
let in his care for all who were left fatherless after the 
siege. His sedulous aloofness from the few women, with 
whom he was thrown into close contact after the Afghan 
War, may have been less a matter of temperament than of 
habit, engendered by long absence from their sphere of 

Be that as it may, if his imagination were not over 
active, passion was strong in him, and his heart infinitely 
tender ; so that on occasion he may well have seen visions 
and dreamed dreams, as lonely men are more apt to do 
than they may care to admit : and from such dreams, how 
rude the awakening to a reality of labour unshared, of 
ineffectual striving against conditions of life too hideous 
to be depicted in words. 

And now to the persistent, veiled antagonism of Afghan 
tyranny was added the disheartening conviction that his 
own Government could neither appreciate his difficulties, 
nor realize the futility of hoping to remove the more 
rank abuses by gaining " the confidence and co-operation " 
of a Yar Mahomed Khan. 


" ALLAH DAD ! " 


" Bring pen and paper, and another cushion for my 
shoulders. I must write." 

" Nahin, Hazur. Have patience yet a little. Your 
honour hath not strength to hold the pen." 

With a gesture of entreaty the faithful soldier kneeled 
beside the sleeping-mat whereon for near two weeks his 
master had lain, rolled in a cotton quilt, burning and 
shivering by turns ; talking strange talk, and refusing 
all nourishment but tea and milk strongly tinctured with 
quinine. Persistently administered, these had wrought 
their miracle of healing : and in spite of a body that 
seemed curiously unrelated to himself, Pottinger's brain 
was clear. 

Another letter from Macnaghten, dated February 22, 
demanded acknowledgment, and by a determined effort 
of will no doubt the thing could be done; though the 
thoughts floated loose in his brain, like torn and scattered 
leaves of a book that he was too weary to collect and 
put together again. The need for insistence vaguely 
angered him, and he frowned. 

" Since when hast thou presumed to disobey my orders, 
Allah Dad ? Bring what I need ; also the packet on my 
table or I fetch them myself." 

The voice was weak and husky ; but the note of com- 
mand was there ; and at the grotesque threat the Afghan 
smiled ruefully, wagging his beard. 



The implements were brought, and Pottinger, extract- 
ing Macnaghten 's letter, succeeded in refreshing his 
blurred recollection of its contents. The secretary's 
annoyance bred of anxiety lest any accident befall his 
cherished scheme had blown over : and he could not be 
expected to realize its disheartening effect upon a man 
tired out, in brain and body, by eighteen months of such 
severe strain on both, as Macnaghten himself, in all his 
twenty-five years of desk work, had never known. He 
now wrote with his wonted complacence. He had little 
doubt that all his assistant's primary arrangements were 
judicious. In regard to payments made and contem- 
plated, he placed great reliance on Pottinger 's discretion, 
while assuring him that the Governor-General would 
"gladly sanction the expenditure of any sum necessary 
to the security of his position, the frustration of hostile 
intrigues, and the maintenance of friendship with the 
authorities of Herat." 

Yet it was Pottinger who was afterwards criticized for 
having accustomed the Herat authorities to do nothing, 
however clearly to their advantage, without being exorbit- 
antly paid for the exertion ; whereas the facts of the case 
go to prove that, first and last, money was the un- 
disguised object of Yar Mahomed Khan, and that Pot- 
tinger protested more than once against the indignity 
of bargaining for justice and good conduct without 

But for the moment friction was in abeyance; and 
Macnaghten in a gracious mood. "On this side," he 
concluded cheerfully, " everything promises well for the 
success of our cause ; and the first column of the Bengal 
army marches on the Bolan Pass to-morrow morning. I 
have most confident expectations that the approach of 
his majesty will be cordially and generally welcomed, 


and that in the recovery of his throne he will meet with 
little or no opposition. ..." 

It will soon be seen how slender were the grounds for 
these expectations. But at least they served to hearten 
a sick man nerving himself to an effort beyond his 
strength. For Allah Dad Khan was right after all. 
Half-a-dozen lines of formal acknowledgment was the 
utmost that will-power could achieve. Faint and dizzy, 
Pottinger fell back upon his pillow ; while Allah Dad 
removed the instruments of evil, muttering curses upon 
them for having robbed his master of sense. 

That night fever regained dominion over him ; and for 
many days to corne there could be no further question of 
wielding a pen. Throughout April convalescence was 
slow and intermittent. Outside on the plain, blossoms 
multiplied even among the stones of the foot-hills; and 
the fields, reclaimed by Pottinger's relief-works, were 
green with standing corn. But in the windowless houses 
of the city, heat had already become the arch-enemy, 
stealthily waxing in power from day to day and hindering 
the sick man's return to the normal activities of health. 

Happily, in Herat itself, surface quiet prevailed. 
Pottinger J s arrangements for dispensing justice and mercy 
were by this time in fair working order : while Yar 
Mahomed carried on his secret intercourse with Persia 
unhampered by irksome supervision. Possibly this 
welcome respite, and the fact of Pottinger 's illness, 
conspired to induce a rare mood of gratitude for his 
services. Certain it is, that during April he achieved 
a long letter to Government, reviewing in Bombastes* 
vein the chief events of the siege ; extolling Afghan 
heroism and concluding with a tribute to his subaltern 
ally embroidered with flourishes peculiarly his own. 

" Though Lieutenant Pottinger did not at once declare 


himself having no office under Government yet never 
did his courage and resolution relax. He, taking him- 
self to the craggy fissures of breaches, was present at 
every onset ; drawing not his foot from the path of valour. 
Whatever we did in that long period, was done as he 
thought good ; even until that last and greatest assault, 
when the dagger of the stout-hearted Afghan pierced the 
breast of the enemy and their sword was mowing down the 
head of the haughty; when the edge of the breach and 
the ditch was muddy with blood, and on all sides but- 
tresses of slime were raised against the walls. So that 
again and again the Persians demanded one thing only, 
the dismissal of Lieutenant Pottinger from the town. So 
great has been the suffering since then, that even the 
sublime aforesaid lord could not put right the dis- 
tracte.d affairs of the country. For this reason we are 
constantly arguing with him, though through no fault of 
our own : because every time hunger pinches us then we 
are hard on him." 

A masterly perversion of the truth, this last ; fitly 
capped by a modest reminder of his own " constant 
services and anxious efforts towards the victorious Govern- 
ment ; looking that it should provide its loyal adherent 
with distinction and favour beyond bounds." In the face 
of effusions so plausible, a British envoy, wholly ignorant 
of Afghan character, may well have felt justified in 
cherishing delusive hopes ; while Pottinger 's strictures 
on the loyal adherent's conduct would naturally appear, 
by contrast, prejudiced, if not unjust. 

But for the moment Yar Mahomed and his intrigues 
were thrust into the background of Macnagh ten's mind 
by the exigencies, anxieties and distracting delays of that 
arduous upward march through countries friendly in 


theory, bitterly hostile in fact. At the time of writing, 
he and his Shah still languished at Shikarpore, still vainly 
demanded carriage-cattle to help them forward. On the 
520th they were cheered by the arrival of the entire Bengal 

Army under Sir Willoughby Cotton : but camels ? 

No : that was another pair of sleeves. The General, 
himself straitened for transport, was quick to resent 
"civil interference," even of the mildest. It was a case 
of two cocks in a hen run. Both men eyed each other 
with secret suspicion ; and the outcome was a stormy 
interview in Sir Willoughby 's tent, followed by a lament- 
able screed from Macnaghten to his late fellow-secretary, 
John Colvin. 

"Sir W.," he complained, "is evidently disposed to 
look upon his Majesty, his disciplined troops and myself 
as mere cyphers. Any hint from me, however modestly 
given, was received with hauteur. I was told that I 
wanted to assume command of the army that he, Sir 
W., knew no superior but Sir John Keane, and he would 
not be interfered with, etc., etc. . . . All this arose out 
of my requesting a thousand camels for the use of the 
Shah and his force. ..." 

Thus, at the first close contact, was struck once more 
that jarring chord of civil and military dissonance which 
was to be dominant throughout. But happily Mac- 
naghten was by temperament, as by calling, a man of 
peace. Though quick to resent the least tendency to 
belittle his royal charge, he was determined not to lose 
his temper, and the two parted, at a late hour, very good 

During the three days' halt, Sir Willoughby and his 
travel-weary troops were zealous in entertaining his 
Majesty with reviews and parades : but the Shah himself 
stout and thick-set, his beard dyed black, his unpleasant 


face singularly devoid of intelligence or power made no 
favourable impression on those bound over to espouse his 
cause. As for his former subjects, those to whom he 
vouchsafed audience at Shikarpore complained openly of 
their reception : " We have traversed our valleys and 
threaded the mountains of Beluch," said they, "only to 
kiss his footstool. And lo, he hath sent us back with 
aching hearts and bleeding feet, without even a kind 
look, much less a promise to feed on." 

To the Englishmen about him he was always affable, 
if condescending : and Macnagh ten's infatuation was 
proof even against omens more significant than the lamen- 
tations of a few Afghan chiefs. 

On the 23rd Sir Willoughby's army moved on camels 
included : 80,000 souls, of whom but 15,000 were fighting 
men all dependent on an inefficient commissariat for 
food. It seems incredible that "no attempt was made 
to limit the numbers of an embarrassing rabble or 
diminish the lumbering baggage of the force." But so 
it was. Ignorant and unprovided for, they went forth 
into the desert, leaving the royal contingent to await 
the smaller Bombay column under Sir John Keane, now 
raised to supreme command by the retirement of Sir 
Henry Fane. Ill health and frank disapproval had 
induced the resignation of that consummate soldier, to the 
sincere regret of all ranks. In losing him, the army lost 
a master-spirit, a leader of real military ability, "which 
it is the fashion to despise ; but which, on trial, few men 
are found to possess." 

Keane in spite of a Peninsular reputation made the 
initial mistake of remaining with the slow-moving Bombay 
column, instead of pushing on at once and taking over 
supreme command of affairs. This devolved for a time 
on Sir Willoughby Cotton, whose military zeal backed 


by Macnagh ten's fear of collusion between Persia and 
Kandahar urged him to move on at once, unhampered 
by the royal cortege. And not until the 7th of March 
did Macnaghten, supported by Keane's column, thank- 
fully turn his back on the arid desolation of Shikar- 

By that time Cotton was nearing the far-famed Bolan 
Pass ; and on the evening of March the 10th, after three 
months of journeying from Ferozepore the last fort- 
night through a desert empty of forage his advance 
guard encamped, at last, at the very gateway of the 

Throughout that fortnight the troops had paid heavy 
toll in suffering, and in loss of priceless baggage-cattle, 
for Macnagh ten's weeks of idleness at Shikarpore. No 
information had been gathered, no arrangements made, 
either as regards water or supplies ; and if the men 
suffered much, the animals of necessity suffered more. 
Horses grew weaker daily; camels, underfed and shame- 
fully overladen, fell exhausted by the way, and were 
left to die unharnessed of their loads. The Beluch 
marauders, ever on the alert, must have had a joyful 
time : more joyful still when, five days later, the unwieldy 
mass became entangled in the defiles of the Pass. 

For sixty miles that stout-hearted army toiled and 
encamped, and toiled again, among rocks and boulders 
and sharp flint stones, incessantly fording and re-fording 
the river, which had carven for itself and them a rugged 
pathway through the barrier that walls in south-west 
Afghanistan. Thirteen times one day, eighteen times the 
next, did the straggling column splash and scramble 
through rushing water, so deep in places that a tall horse 
could hardly keep his legs. And the way they went was 
strewn with abandoned tents, ammunition, stores and 


camels always camels, till the stream of the Bolan was 
tainted, and men began to realize the worth of that most 
maddening, most invaluable aid to invasion, denounced 
by Tommy Atkins as "a devil and an ostrich and an 
orphan child in one." 

And as if loss by misadventure were not enough, came 
urgent demands from Keane for camels and again more 
camels to relieve his own wretched plight. Mortified by 
Cotton's advance, he had wasted much precious time in 
an attempt to reach Quetta first by a doubtful route ; and 
failing, coupled his request for carriage with an impera- 
tive order to halt at Quetta ; an order whereby he gained 
nothing and imperilled the success of the whole expedi- 
tion. "For eleven days he kept a body of fighting men 
on half rations . . . idly consuming their scanty sup- 
plies," and enduring privations that told severely on their 
health and spirits ; when an advance by easy marches, 
husbanding their resources and jaded cattle, had been 
obviously the safest and wisest course. Possibly Cotton 
should not have gone forward, in the first place ; but, 
having done so, he should not have been checked short 
of Kandahar. 

Too soon it became known that Burnes absent on a 
mission of persuasion at Khelat had altogether failed to 
convince the shrewd and vigorous old Khan that it was 
his duty to acknowledge Shah Shujah and smooth the 
way for his supporters, notwithstanding the devastation 
wrought by their presence in a land already suffering 
from a blighted harvest. Hitherto he had remained 
neutral, and had even been persuaded, against his will 
and judgment, to put his name to a treaty of friendship. 
For he frankly distrusted the Saddozai King, and as 
frankly criticized his method of reasserting his claim. 

"He should have trusted to Afghans," the old chief 


declared sagely, ' ' instead of deluging the country with 
Hindustanis ; an insult his own people will never forgive 
him. You English may place him by force upon the 
Masnad, 1 but as soon as you leave the kingdom, he will 
be driven beyond its borders." 

In fine, Mehrab Khan cancelled the hated treaty and 
refused supplies. News of his disaffection and the diffi- 
culties of the road increased Macnaghten 's eagerness to 
push on, with all speed, to Kandahar. But Keane, 
dreading the junction of three forces in a country so 
sterile and denuded, prevailed on him to halt for a week 
at Bagh : a week spent mainly in zealous efforts to con- 
ciliate resentful Beluchs, and charm away the King's 
increasing disgust with the men of his own race. Sick 
of the delays, dissensions and general discomfort of the 
march, Shah Shujah already seemed not merely undesired, 
but undesirous. " He says he never had so much trouble 
and bother in his lifetime," wrote Macnaghten to Lord 
Auckland ; " and his opinion of the Afghan nation is, 
I regret to say, extremely low. . . . He declares they 
are a pack of dogs, one and all ; ... but we must try 
and win him gradually round to a more favourable opinion 
of his subjects." 

The element of farce in this anomalous state of things 
had surely been obvious to any man salted with a grain 
of humour : but Macnaghten was blest with little or none 
of that saving grace which clarifies judgment and keeps 
its balance true. While at Bagh, his fears of Persia 
were revived by Pottinger's candid account of his second 
and last collision with the virtual rulers of Herat. 
Haunted still by the bogey of Russo-Persian advance, he 
exaggerated the significance of a purely local disturbance. 
In spite of Pottinger's postscript showing how speedily 
1 Throne. 


his decisive measures had cleared the air, the whole 
account was promptly forwarded to Calcutta, italicized 
by his own views and comments. The tenor of these may 
be gathered from his letter to Pattinger, written in the 
first flush of vexation and dismay 


" I will not attempt to describe to you the extreme 
concern I have felt at learning this fresh misunderstanding 
between yourself and the Herat authorities ; and I am not 
without apprehension that the Governor-General will 
receive your own statement of the affair with much of 
uneasiness. You have related the occurrences with 
evident candour and fairness ; and I trust that his Lord- 
ship will be prepared to make every allowance for the 
peculiarly difficult nature of your position at this distance 
from the scene of your employment. I can only recom- 
mend you in the most urgent manner to remember that 
the interests of your country are at stake ; and I would 
strongly advise you, whenever practicable, to leave every 
point of difference to be adjusted between myself and the 
Herat authorities." 

On this master-stroke of advice comment is superfluous. 

" You know how much I labour under the apprehension 
that you are interfering too minutely in the domestic 
affairs of the Herat Government. Nothing is more likely 
than this to alienate the attachment of the Authorities ; 
. . . but you will, I hope, be able to prevail upon Kamran 
and Yar Mahomed to send confidential agents on their 
part to meet us at Kandahar. At that place I do not 
expect any opposition. . . . You will observe that I have 
not entered into any detailed investigation of your pro- 
ceedings. When matters of such vast importance are 
pending, a retrospect is comparatively useless ; and I feel 


assured that you will now strain every nerve to make 
secure your present position, at least until our approach." 

To this letter no definite reply is on record. Pottinger 
was still unwell when it reached him : and all that he chose 
to say for himself had already been said in his one 
exhaustive attempt at explaining the situation to men 
complacently incapable of perceiving its essential impos- 
sibility. And if Pottinger suffered on that account, 
Macnaghten, in his own degree, suffered also. He knew 
neither the people he designed to benefit, nor the king 
he thrust upon them at the point of the bayonet : and if, 
at the first, he rushed blindly in where angels might well 
have feared to tread, at the last he paid as dearly for 
his sins of ignorance as though they had been the blackest 
crimes in Newgate Calendar. 

His dream of a conciliated and co-operating Yar 
Mahomed Khan was, like Charles II, "an unconscion- 
able time a-dying " : and in the meantime Pottinger must 
endure as best he might the implication that it was he, 
and not the Wazir, who impeded "more intimate rela- 
tions " with Herat. 


ON March the 27th, Cotton and his sorely tried troops 
emerged, at last, into the beautiful valley of Shal, alive 
at this season with poignantly familiar sights and sounds 
of an English spring fruit-blossoms, wild anemones, 
iris and tulips ; buttercups, even, and the thrilling jubi- 
lance of larks. On the following day " headquarters " 
were established at Quetta now one of India's finest 
frontier stations ; then ' ' a most miserable mud town with 
a small castle on a mound, and a small gun on a rickety 
carriage." Here arrangements were made for that ill- 
judged halt of eleven days in which men and animals, 
reduced almost to famine allowances, idly consumed the 
miserable remnants of forage and provisions that should 
have helped them forward to Kandahar, some fifteen 
marches ahead. Fifty miles on, another pass of unknown 
difficulty awaited them ; yet it seems never to have 
occurred to Cotton that some sort of reconnaissance in 
that direction would have given occupation to the officers, 
and mitigated, in some degree, the evil of delay. 

To the chiefs at Kandahar the halt implied timidity, 
and its ill-effect on the morale of all ranks was inevitable. 
Present sufferings were aggravated by dread of the future, 
by rumours of coming opposition and hourly evidence of 
a universal determination to hamper and harry, at every 
turn, the unwelcome supporters of an unwelcome king. 

On the 1st of April came dispatches from Sir John 
Keane to the effect that he and the Shah hoped to enter 
the valley in three days' time. On the 4th Sir Willoughby 
2 291 


and his Staff rode out to meet them, and report upon a 
situation unpromising enough from every point of view. 

Macnaghten listened, nothing dismayed, and that same 
evening wrote to Calcutta: "Sir W. came in here this 
morning, and talks in the most gloomy strain of his 
prospects. He says we have but twelve days' supplies, 
and his men are already on quarter rations. . . . He is 
a sad croaker. Not content with telling me we must all 
be starved, he declares that Shah Shujah is very un- 
popular, and that we shall be opposed at every step of 
our progress. I think I know a little better than 
this ! " 

The arrival at Quetta of King, Envoy and Commander- 
in-Chief was celebrated on the 6th with all honour : 
peals of ordnance, flourish of trumpets, glitter of 
bayonets and uniforms; for as yet khaki was not. And 
for one while, at least, there was no more talk of delay. 
Two hours later all heads of departments met in Sir 
Willoughby's tent ; and afternoon brought the welcome 
order that the combined forces would march next morning 
for Kandahar. But thereto was appended another order, 
very far from welcome to those concerned. It was con- 
sidered advisable that a brigade remain at Quetta to hold 
the province of Shal and keep communications open in 
the rear. For this irksome but necessary duty Keane told 
off the 2nd Brigade under Major-General Nott, of subse- 
quent Kandahar fame : and thereby hangs a tale. 

In that crowded theatre of action a score or so of names 
stand boldly out from the mass, not always with enviable 
distinctness ; and among these was perhaps no finer leader, 
nor any more remarkable man than William Nott, the 
rugged old Company's officer and bereaved husband, 
whose chance of distinction had come too late. 

Though barely fifty-six, he had served John Company 


with signal energy and devotion for over forty years. 
Uncompromising and straight-spoken to a fault, high- 
handed, warm-hearted, the very " abstract and impersona- 
tion of duty and justice," Nott w r as essentially a fighter; 
while yet he was deep-sighted enough to recognize the 
truth that " fighting is the least part of a soldier's duty." 
And this fiery, indomitable spirit was well matched by a 
frame equal to any demand either for action or endur- 
ance. A commanding brow, and features ruggedly 
aquiline as those of the great Duke himself, were re- 
deemed from hardness by a mouth more humanly passion- 
ate and generous, and finely-shaped eyes that glowed 
with a fire and ardour too vital to be quenched by years. 
Even inconsolable grief, at loss of the wife he worshipped, 
only succeeded in deadening these for a time. So pro- 
nounced a personality could scarcely escape egotism ; but 
in the main his faults were faults of temper. "He 
thought deeply, felt keenly, and spoke and wrote with 
scorching vehemence " ; for he was not of those who 
suffer fools gladly. A strict disciplinarian, yet merciful 
and considerate withal, he was better beloved by the 
men who served under him than by his brother officers 
or superiors, who were too often repelled by his reserve 
and independent bearing. He would flatter no man's 
vanity ; and though most of his judgments were right in 
the main, an aggressive insistence on the fact tended to 
alienate sympathy if it did not engender active dislike. 

At the time when Lord Auckland's proclamation set 
all India astir there were those who considered Colonel 
Nott the finest regimental chief of his day ; though his 
claim to distinction rested mainly on the fact that he 
had, without a murmur of opposition, restored the un- 
settled condition of three regiments by a simple course 
of justice and equity that will always reconcile brave men 


to discipline, however strict. But so deep-seated was the 
prejudice against him in high places that Fane had with 
difficulty insisted on promoting him to the rank of Major- 
General and command of a brigade. " Colonel Nott is 
the best officer you have," said he at length; "I cannot 
go without him." For which ultimatum England had 
reason to be grateful in the years that followed. 

Who it was that had secretly maligned a tried soldier 
and an upright man will never be known. But prejudice, 
however engendered, cannot have been allayed by his 
vigorous protests against the clash of civil and military 
authority on active service, and against the frequent 
supersession of Company's field officers by giving the 
local rank of Colonel to certain Lieutenant-Colonels in the 
Queen's army while serving in India. To this order Sir 
Henry Fane added another conferring the rank of Major- 
General in the same circumstances. The whole question 
is too complex and remote to be considered in detail. 
Fair or unfair, it certainly engendered much heart-burn- 
ing and injustice on both sides, and served to increase 
the deplorable jealousy then existing between the sister 
services of the Company and the Queen. 

Four days after the publication of the Afghan mani- 
festo Nott was stunned, in the midst of his preparations, 
by the sudden death of the wife he had loved for three- 
and-thirty years, with a passionate, yet exalted devotion 
characteristic of the man. So sudden, so prostrating was 
the blow, that for a time it was as if light were turned 
to darkness. Promotion, and the chances of distinction, 
were dust and ashes in his mouth now that the beloved 
woman was no longer there to take pride in them. Two 
unmarried daughters left on his hands added anxiety to 
grief, while yet their need of him gave him courage to 
face the prospect of living on alone. 


Before leaving Delhi he sent them to join their elder 
brother in Calcutta, promising to take care of himself 
for their sakes. " But for you, all would be a blank, and 
I would turn back to-morrow if I could," he wrote after 
the parting. " I once anticipated pleasure from this 
expedition now all is exquisite misery." And again : 
"I would rather hide my grey head in some clay-built 
cottage, did not others depend on me. . . . My dear 
wife left me before I got this and now it is too 

But time, the merciful healer, deadened the pain that 
could never be quite conjured away. Action, change of 
scene and the natural resilience of the man helped also, 
as his constant letters to his " children " serve to show. 
From the first his sympathies were not with the Puppet 
King ; and he stands out notably as one of the few Eng- 
lishmen capable of seeing the whole affair from the 
Afghan point of view. "I really believe," he wrote, 
"that the people of Afghanistan will not give up their 
country without fighting for it ; I know I would not were 
I in their situation." 

From the first also he was strongly prepossessed in 
favour of the Afghans themselves. " Very fine-looking 
fellows," was his verdict; "I like them very much. . . . 
One man I met yesterday was the finest fellow I've ever 
seen ; quite the gentleman. He spoke Hindustani very 
well and asked me why we were marching into his 
country. I told him merely for the purpose of putting 
his rightful king upon the throne. He said, ' We prefer 
Dost Mahomed.' I said, ' He has no right to the throne.' 
I shall not forget the fine expression of his large black 
eyes. Stepping up to me and placing his hand on my 
shoulder, he said in a bold but respectful tone, * What 
right have you to Benares and Delhi? Why, the same 


right that our Dost Mahomed has to Kabul and he 
will keep it."' 

So much for the Afghans. As to the " grand military 
promenade " undertaken for their special and particular 
benefit he had nothing but praise for the Army itself; 
while adding with characteristic frankness, " The Govern- 
ment only made one blunder. On that fine soldier Sir 
Henry Fane giving up the command, they failed to give 
this beautiful force a competent leader ! There was no 
foresight, no military knowledge : a wild expenditure of 
public money and a reckless disregard for the welfare of 
our troops . . . Sir John Keane's appointment was, from 
the first, a ' dirty job ' ; and it has nearly given the 
death-blow to our expedition." 

Keane, a brave though not brilliant soldier, and a 
rough-mannered, somewhat prejudiced man, was also, it 
should be added, a Queen's officer ; and Nott prejudiced 
also held the drastic opinion that no Queen's officer, 
whatever his talents, should hold high command in India. 
Whatever his grounds, at that time, for so sweeping an 
assertion, the fact remains that the woefully ill-conducted 
"promenade " was mainly commanded by officers of the 
royal service. For himself, Nott had managed, by un- 
stinted forethought and personal expenditure, to keep his 
troops and cattle in better condition than most ; and now, 
arrived at Quetta, behold the heart-broken man for 
whom action was the sole anodyne to grief condemned 
to the inglorious role of chokidar while " Queen's 
Generals " went forward into the promised land. 

And there was more than this, which would have been 
stoically accepted as fortune of war, had he not divined 
prejudice at work. On Sir Willoughby's temporary pro- 
motion to supreme command, Fane had put Nott in his 
place at the head of the Bengal division ; and now that 


Cotton returned to his former rank, Nott hoped, reason- 
ably enough, that Keane would leave him undisturbed 
and give Sir Willoughby the vacated Bombay command. 
His feelings, then, may be imagined when he learnt that 
no divisional command was to be his. Instead, he was 
to lose the step gained and revert to his original brigade ; 
the Bombay division being assigned to General Wiltshire 
a Queen's officer and a local Major-General ! Here, 
indeed, was insult heaped on injury ! This second slight 
not to himself merely, but to the Company for whose 
honour he was consumingly jealous filled his cup of 
bitterness to overflowing, and goaded him into open 
remonstrance, whether politic or no. 

Immediately upon Keane 's arrival at Quetta he pre- 
sented himself, and was told that Sir Willoughby had 
been returned to his former command by " particular 
orders of the Governor-General " which he did not 
choose to believe : also that the same high authority had 
ordered a whole brigade to garrison Quetta which again 
he did not believe. 

Sir John pointed out that by remaining with his brigade 
the General would virtually command the entire province 
of Shal. 

The General retorted that he had no urgent desire to 
command that province. In fact, personally, he cared 
very little about the division. His only wish was to 
proceed with the army. 

" Consider, your Excellency," he urged, with in- 
creasing warmth : " I am senior to all present except Sir 
Willoughby. It is natural I should feel the hardship and 
injustice of being left behind when all my juniors are 
going forward." 

To which Sir John made answer bluntly, " I am sorry 
for your disappointment, but I can't help that." 


And Nott, chafing under the conviction that he would 
not if he could : " At least your Excellency must be aware 
that the advancing column is almost entirely composed of 
Bengal troops ; that it will contain four of her Majesty's 
Generals, and not one of the Company's unless I go." 

Keane shook his head. "I have my orders as regards 
Quetta; and I have chosen your brigade because a part 
of it is still behind." 

" But one regiment of it is here, and I trust I may be 
allowed to proceed with that corps." 

Such persistence was more than Keane had bargained 
for. " By Gad, sir, your conduct for a general officer 
is the most extraordinary I have ever heard of ! Do you 
imagine I can upset Government commands for your 
personal benefit ? And after all, you will be in a far more 
responsible position than any General who goes on with 
the army. When the rest of your brigade arrives, how 
do you know that you may not be ordered to take 

But Nott's temper was rising. He dismissed this ironic 
attempt at consolation with a scornful laugh. 

"Well, your Excellency," he broke out hotly, "since 
you are determined to deprive me of my division, and 
equally determined that I shall not go on with the 
portion of my brigade now here, I beg to resign my 

Sir John raised his eyebrows. " You had better con- 
sult your friends before you take such a step." 

" That advice is quite superfluous. I have lived long 
enough to possess a judgment of my own. I see, and I 
have long seen, through the whole of this affair." 

The Commander-in-Chief pondered for a few seconds 
on this astonishingly direct statement. " I can only take 
your resignation in one form," said he. "Forward it to 


Government. I suppose, sir, you will obey my orders in 
the meantime? " 

" I must obey your orders. But to send my resignation 
through Government would quite defeat my present object 
that of accompanying the army to-morrow as a private 

Keane regarded him in open amazement. " I can only 
repeat, sir, that your conduct is most extraordinary. Sir 
Willoughby Cotton does not feel aggrieved, why should 

" I am no judge of his feelings. Besides he is going 
on. But I have no more to say on that score. There 
remains my just claim to the other division. Your Excel- 
lency is aware that I hold the Queen's commission of 
Major-General, and have therefore a prior right to officers 
holding local rank. Yet you have given General Wilt- 
shire the command in preference to me." 

Once again Sir John pleaded the receipt of " particular 
orders," adding coldly, " If you think yourself aggrieved 
you can appeal to the Court of Directors. Evidently 
nothing I can say will convince you." 

"No, your Excellency. Nothing you have yet said has 
been at all convincing." 

" General Nott, you insult my authority ! " 

At that Nott rose to his feet a fine, soldierly figure 
his grey head erect, smouldering fire in his eyes. " I am 
not aware of having done anything of the kind. I have 
merely stated my deliberate, unalterable judgment; and 
I trust I have left no ill impression on your mind by 
speaking the truth. I see the whole affair. I am to be 
sacrificed because I happen to be senior to the Queen's 

" 111 impression, sir ! By Gad, I shall never forget 
your conduct as long as I live ! " 


"Indeed, your Excellency?" Nott bowed ceremoni- 
ously and stepped back toward the door. "In that case 
I have only to wish you a very good evening! " 

For the moment there was no more to be said or done. 
But there was much to follow, as events shall show. 

Next day Sir John Keane marshalled his sadly crippled 
forces and set out for Kandahar, leaving behind him a 
very inadequate protective force and his finest General 
smarting under a bitter sense of wrong. Not even the 
song of birds, the music of streams, the scent and colour 
of a thousand roses, had power to heal Nott's wounded 
spirit, or curb his impatience at the needless suffering 
and loss inflicted on first-rate troops by sheer mismanage- 
ment in all directions. Incurably reserved with the world 
at large, he poured forth his feelings and opinions to the 
children of his heart with a vehemence and a candour 
peculiarly his own. 

" If I could get my brigade together," he wrote a few 
weeks after Keane 's departure, " I should be able to 
snore in quiet while five Queen's generals are gathering 
laurels at Kandahar ; but what has a Company's officer to 
do but to snore? What right can forty years' service 
give him to command? None, as long as commanders- 
in-chief are appointed at the Horse Guards; but the 
Company's officers may thank their own apathy for this 
and all the gross insults heaped upon them. Oh ! I have 
witnessed such scenes on this grand expedition. By 
Heavens ! two thousand disciplined troops would have sent 
this army back in disgrace ; but good fortune, backed by 
many lakhs of Jack Company's rupees, paves the way and 
puts down opposition. During a long life I have read 
much, but I have never seen, heard or read of such a 
shameful and entirely unnecessary waste of public money. 
As to the commissariat, no language can describe it, nor 


give any idea of the rascality of its native agents. This 
department has, moreover, proved itself totally inefficient ; 
there is not a native understrapper attached to it who 
has not plundered a fortune; while the poor subaltern 
officer has been involved in debt, and half starved into 
the bargain." 

These strictures, though harshly worded, were just, in 
the main. The annals of Indian campaigning hardly 
furnish a parallel to the miseries and losses endured by 
that unopposed "Army of the Indus " lauded by Nott, 
the hypercritical, as the "most efficient and best- 
equipped force " ever assembled in the country. 

On the 19th of April he addressed to the Governor- 
General-in-Council his protest against unjust supersession, 
which must needs be sent via Sir John Keane. 

Days grew to weeks, and weeks to months during 
which time Nott had rewritten his protest three times. 
But the gods were silent ; and inquiry brought always the 
same answer: "Not received." 

Finally conviction was thrust upon him that even " in 
this very just world there are men who see no harm in 
* burking ' papers which are not exactly palatable ! " 
And hard upon conviction followed the resolve to break 
through the rules of the service by writing yet another 
copy and sending it direct to the fountain-head of justice. 

But by that time the appeal would arrive too late to 
do him any good. Sir John Keane had gained his end. 


BUT in April, Keane had still to reach Kandahar and 
to marshal his half-starved, heavily-hampered force 
through the Khojak Pass. No attempt had been made 
by Cotton to gauge its difficulties, or to discover an easier 
route; and, as usual, the sins of the leaders were visited 
most heavily on the men and animals given into their 
charge. Opposition was conspicuous by its absence. So, 
also, were fresh water, forage and food. Day after day, 
strength and spirit were sapped by an invincible enemy 
at whom none could strike a straightforward blow. All 
ranks would have been thankful for the stimulant of 
resistance, however stubborn ; for an occasional fight to 
fire the blood and dispel the conviction that the grinding 
misery they endured was unnecessary to boot : mere escort 
duty where they had looked for war. 

Once indeed there came a cheering rumour that a body 
of " invulnerable horsemen with charmed lives " were 
advancing to destroy the infidels root and branch. But, 
like a mirage of the desert, those invulnerable ones 
vanished at close quarters ; dwindled, in fact, to a party 
of vedettes who had boldly ridden forth to reconnoitre, 
and, at sight of British bayonets gleaming for the first 
time on an Afghan ridge, had saluted the officers with a 
few long shots, and ridden quietly back to Kandahar. 

But if Afghan chiefs were inactive, the marauding 
tribes were not. Like a swarm of angry wasps they 
buzzed about the rearguard, plundering camels and stores, 
murdering stragglers and generally enjoying themselves 



to the top of their bent. Worse than all, before Kan- 
dahar was reached 27,000 rounds of musket ammunition 
and much spare powder had fallen into their hands. 

Disheartening work indeed ! But in defiance of thirst, 
hunger, forced marches and heart-breaking delay, resolu- 
tion and patriotism held their own. For man has a spirit 
in him to sustain infirmities of the flesh : a boon denied 
to his long-suffering servants the camel and the horse. 
On the former, indeed, the army depended for its very 
life. One camel-load of flour, alone, represented a day's 
rations for one hundred and sixty men, and for twice 
that number when half rations were in vogue. Yet were 
these priceless animals the greatest sufferers in this 
tragical military display : and the scenes of that march, 
it has been said, would have afforded fine scope for an 
advocate for preventing cruelty to animals. There was 
much barbaric splendour in the triple camps of Shah, 
Envoy and Commander-in-Chief ; but woefully little 
regard for the welfare of those who had borne it all 
upon their backs, till they fell by the wayside and were 
left for vultures to devour alive. Between Sindh and 
Kandahar no less than 20,000 camels died of hunger and 
merciless overloading, and their burdens enriched the 
marauders of Beluchistan. 

As to the horses, their plight was little better. Day 
by day the hearts of cavalrymen and Horse Gunners 
grew heavier within them, at sight of the havoc wrought 
in beloved squadrons and batteries since the days of pomp 
and circumstance at Ferozepore. Before leaving Quetta, 
sixty horses had been shot ; the first week's march killed 
a hundred and sixteen more, and few of those that sur- 
vived could be ridden without brutality. By the time 
Kandahar was reached, the 3rd Cavalry, alone, was in 
good order and nearly complete. 


But while each day of that last terrible three weeks 
seemed to increase the miseries of man and beast, each 
evening found them ten or twelve miles nearer to the 
end. On the 21st they emerged from the Khojak Pass, 
and, except for lack of water, no further obstacle lay 
between them and Kandahar. Shah Shujah, haunted of 
late by earlier unsuccessful adventures, plucked up heart 
when Hadji Khan, Kakur, a notorious turncoat, rode 
into his camp at the head of a hundred horsemen, and 
unblushingly plighted an Afghan's faith to the power 
that seemed likest to win. Letters had arrived also by 
the hand of Pottinger's old friend Syud Mohun Shah, 
stating the terms on which the Barakzai brothers were pre- 
pared to submit. Macnaghten would have none of these ; 
and despite the inevitable Afghan bluster, it seemed prob- 
able that the alternative to submission would be flight : a 
prospect calculated to cure the royal attack of nerves. 

Now, for the first time, King and Envoy rode in the 
van : and, to Macnaghten 's unbounded delight, they 
entered Kandahar on the 25th, escorted by a cheering, 
shouting populace, well in advance of Keane and his 
bedraggled army. 

That last, after a waterless march of fifteen miles, 
cared nothing at all for Kandahar or kings. One 
thought, one longing was in the minds of all : " The river 
the river ! " There was magic, at once, and torment 
in the very word. For a week and more, driblets of water, 
brackish or foetid, had been their portion ; while the heat 
in tents was often over a hundred degrees. Some, in their 
anguish, had thankfully swallowed liquid mud : and now, 
at sight of clear rushing water, more than enough for all, 
neither self-control nor discipline could check the simul- 
taneous rush to the river's bank, the wild melee of men 
and animals, scrambling over each other in mad haste 


to find relief; so that many fell, utterly exhausted, and 
died in the very water that should have saved their lives. 

But for those that survived the worst was over. Two 
more marches brought them to the south gate of Kan- 
dahar, and it was plain to all that there could be no 
thought of further advance for weeks to come. 

By the 4th of May the last of the stragglers had 
reported themselves ; and now, except for one brigade, 
Keane's entire army was encamped without the walls : a 
battered and ill-used army indeed ; yet in efficiency, pluck 
and spirit, as fine a body of men as any leader could 
wish to command. Among the higher ranks more than 
a little incompetence might prevail : Nott anticipating 
conflict with Russia might invoke the spirits of Welles- 
ley and Hastings, since these our dwarfish days " could 
not produce a single Giant to hurl the Bear back to his 
native snows " : yet, among the captains and subalterns, 
aye, and among the much-maligned politicals of that dis- 
astrous Afghan war, w r ere the very giants who were to win 
and mould the Punjab ; not to mention a score of Mutiny 
heroes, whose names are written in brass upon India's 
scroll of honour. Outram and Havelock, twin Bayards 
of the Lucknow relief, were there; the last as A.D.C. to 
Sir Willoughby Cotton. George Lawrence was there, a 
captain of Light Cavalry ; while Henry had already earned 
distinction by his exertions at Ferozepore. He, too, as 
a budding political, was to be drawn into the vortex of 
action before the end came. Henry Durand, James 
Abbott, Nevil and Crawford Chamberlain all endured 
the hardships of that terrible march : and in '41, a 
subaltern named John Nicholson journeyed up with 
George Broadfoot's column, through the Khyber to 

Since the day of Wellesley and Hastings there had been 


a lull and a passing decline. But the race of giants was 
by no means extinct ; nor will be, while even a dozen men 
remain on earth who have faith in God a*id in their own 
immortal souls. Of such there were many in the Army 
of the Indus that halted to take breath and await further 
orders outside the Kandahar gate. 

They learnt, on arrival, that the Barakzai chiefs had 
retreated to a fort on the Herat road, and that Shah 
Shujah had been welcomed by his former subjects "with 
feelings almost amounting to adoration." Such was 
Macnagh ten's gilded version of a short-lived curiosity 
and excitement signifying nothing. 

Two weeks later, the measure of this chimerical adora- 
tion was clearly revealed. For on the 8th of May, 
Macnaghten inaugurated a public recognition of the long- 
lost sovereign on a great plain north of the city, where 
five years earlier he had suffered crushing defeat. 

To celebrate so joyful an event, the troops were turned 
out at daybreak, eight thousand of them, in " truly 
admirable condition," for all the ardours and privations 
of their unforgettable march. Shah Shujah himself, with 
Sir John Keane, the British Mission and a following of 
Syuds, rode forth of the gate that is called Eed-ghur to 
the stirring salute of a hundred and one guns. But on 
this day there was little or no cheering, no eager, curious 
crowd. The voice of the cannon was more in evidence 
throughout than the voice of the people : a prophetic 
omen of that which was to come. By way of throne a 
carpet and three large pillows were set on a platform, 
under a canopy of scarlet and gold. Here his Afghan 
Majesty sat cross-legged, while two meanly-clad attend- 
ants waved above his head chowries made from tails of 
the sacred Thibetan cow. Below, on chairs, sat the 
military and political chiefs. British troops passed in 


review before him ; British officers saluted him ; while 
he in return extolled the disinterested benevolence of the 
British Government, in bringing about an event whose 
66 moral influence would be felt from Constantinople to 
Pekin! " 

And those for whose benefit this grand transformation 
scene had been wrought what of them? 

Even many who approved the so-called restoration were 
forced to admit that the Afghans themselves seemed 
strangely, disconcertingly outside the picture. The 
Barakzai brothers at Kandahar had been far from popular ; 
and for the moment any change was acceptable. But 
the new King had now been with them a fortnight ; and it 
seemed that the more they looked at him and his halo 
of bayonets the less they appreciated either. The com- 
mon people thronged in thousands upon mosque and city 
walls ; but even the novel magnificence of a British review 
did not draw more than a few hundreds out on to the 
plain ; and the space behind the throne assigned, in the 
diplomatic programme, to "the populace restrained by 
the Shah's troops " remained, throughout, a bitter satire 
on the display of the morning. 

Yet Macnaghten could not or would not see anything 
amiss; and whatever the Shah's feelings may have been 
they kept strict purdah behind his empty-looking expanse 
of brow and supercilious eyes. Not so his hatred of the 
fugitive brothers, whom he frankly urged Macnaghten to 
pursue. Accordingly on the 12th of May placable 
measures having failed a strong detachment marched out 
under Colonel Robert Sale, and crossed the Helmund in 
full flood, only to find that the ex-chiefs had fled to seek 
refuge in Persia, where they honoured the Asylum of 
the Universe with a friendly visit that lasted a matter of 
three years, 
x 2 


It soon became evident, even to Macnaghten, that the 
powerful tribe of the Ghilzais primal lords of the land 
had no mind to accept British overtures, or place their 
necks under the Saddozai yoke let money and promises 
be never so lavishly scattered abroad. There remained 
the Duranis, from whom the Shah might reasonably hope 
better things. But these had been so impoverished and 
oppressed that not enough manhood seemed left in them 
either for resistance or support. 

As the grandson of Ahmed Shah and enemy of the Bara- 
kzai Sirdars, the King himself was a desirable change ; and 
fiercely though they resented the halo of British bayonets, 
policy prompted them to render formal allegiance, while 
greed whispered that the inevitable might yet be turned 
to good account. So they thronged about the throne, 
demanding extravagant rewards for their supposed for- 
bearance, and bargaining for the revival of ancient privi- 
leges that would soon have swept more than half the state 
revenues into their hands. Friendship of this complexion 
proved more embarrassing than Ghilzai hostility. Refusal 
were impolitic; but the awkward fact remained that, 
although British guns had saluted Shah Shujah king at 
Kandahar, his throne was yet to win. Dost Mahomed 
still ruled at Kabul. If his brothers were hated, he was 
not ; and weeks of enforced delay at Kandahar would give 
him time, in plenty, to concentrate troops at Ghazni, the 
strongest fortress in the land. 

But, on this rare occasion, the stumbling-block that 
might have ruined all, proved instead the stepping-stone 
to a brief success, which many would gladly have forfeited 
could they have guessed the end. For D5st Mahomed, 
puzzled by unreliable rumours and by the unaccountable 
halt in Western Afghanistan, finally misconstrued its 
object to his own destruction. With bitterness and 


mortification, but without surprise, he had accepted the 
bloodless surrender of Kandahar. From brothers so 
cowardly and treacherous he had expected no less. But 
he and his sons praise be to Allah were made of 
manlier stuff. For the present he must needs console 
himself with the open hostility of the Ghilzais and of the 
stout-hearted Mehrab Khan, chief of Khelat. These he 
urgently incited to further resistance. " Do not trust 
the words of the accursed English," was the burden of 
his war-cry. "Be not deceived by their knavery and 
money. ... If God favours me, you shall share my 
honours and riches. Let everything be sacrificed for the 
Faith. May the Kafir-Feringhis be the food of the sword 
and all their w r ealth be ours ! ' ' To such blood-thirsty 
revilings had Lord Auckland driven the man, who, but 
a year earlier, had begged almost humbly for practical 
recognition as an ally and a friend. 

From the halt at Kandahar he augured a preliminary 
advance on Herat, a belief confirmed by news of a force 
under Colonel Wade approaching the Khyber Pass. 
Always on the alert for trouble in that permanent storm- 
quarter the Punjab, he promptly sent thither the pick of 
his army under his favourite and most redoubtable son, 
Akbar Khan, as handsome, daring and resourceful a 
leader as the heart of Afghan father could desire. A 
second son held the fortress of Ghazni; while a third 
hovered in that neighbourhood with intent to harry the 
advancing troops. 

But, for all the unquenchable eagerness of officers and 
men, no immediate hope of a move enlivened the monoton- 
ous weeks spent under canvas throughout the increasing 
heat of May. And as heat increased, sickness increased 
also fever, dysentery and jaundice, the curse of that 


region. Reaction from the strain and excitement of daily 
marching, daily change of scene, wrought cruel work 
among the European and Bengal troops. Provisions 
were still scarce, money even more so; and an army 
without cavalry-horses or camels was as a man without 
legs. Plainly there was nothing to do but await a more 
hopeful turn of the wheel ; and in the interval, Mac- 
naghten's ever-active mind returned afresh to the problem 
of Herat. 

Before the end of the month came an official letter from 
Simla expressing "deep concern" at renewed friction 
with the authorities, and confirming his own opinion 
that an officer of higher standing should be sent to super- 
intend affairs in that quarter. Lord Auckland bade him 
despatch the highest in rank and most trusted political 
officer at his disposal, to draw up a special report of the 
present dispositions and requirements of those semi- 
mythical monsters, Shah Kamran and Yar Mahomed 

Now the highest political at Macnagh ten's disposal 
was Sir Alexander Burnes. But Sekundur the Great 
had no mind to thrust his ungloved hand into a 
hornets' nest, or to eat again of the Dead Sea fruit of 
failure. He was clever enough to foresee the fate of any 
upright Englishman who pitted himself against the Herat 
Wazir, and to succeed Macnaghten at Kabul was the 
private wish of his heart. But these were not matters for 
open speech. He merely acknowledged the compliment 
and declined the offer, which devolved, by a natural 
sequence, on Major D'Arcy Todd, the former assistant 
of Sir John McNeill. Todd, though infected with some- 
thing of Macnaghten 's optimism, answered frankly that 
he was willing to do his utmost, but saw little chance 
of success. Engineer and artillery officers were to accom- 


pany him for the purpose of strengthening Herat forti- 
fications at British expense. In return for these favours, 
the authorities were expected to ratify the treaty of 
friendship and alliance whereon Macnaghten had set his 
heart. A plain-spoken letter from Pottinger, dated the 
4th of May, might well have shaken the convictions of a 
man less securely armoured against the slings and arrows 
of discouraging facts. 

" The Wazir's real aim," wrote the one man who 
could speak from intimate and painful experience, "is to 
get sufficient money to assume an independent attitude 
and then keep up the supply by threatening his neigh- 
bours. He has no idea of finance or of increasing the 
prosperity of his country. . . . Even amongst Afghans 
he is an ambitious and engrossing man, and Kamran 
nourishes the hope of possessing the whole kingdom of 
Ahmed Shah. If he were a man the Wazir feared, 
things might go well; but he is ten times the greater 
tyrant; and if Government does not wish to interfere in 
internal affairs which is the most advisable plan we 
can only restore justice and security by removing one or 
the other. Without a force, we only hold our situation 
here by the payment of money, which Kamran and his 
minister will use every means of falsehood and fraud to 
procure from us, while giving not a single iota to the 
general interest. With two such men and their followers, 
accustomed to live by rapine, you may judge what hope 
we have of restoring prosperity to this country. For 
my part I have none." 

Such uncomfortable convictions were not at all to 
Macnaghten *s taste. They served only to increase his 
desire for the opinion of a man whose view of Central 
Asian politics squared more nearly with his own. This 
is not to assert that his personal friend and Military 


Secretary was dispatched with intent to displace Pot- 
tinger ; but there can be little doubt that Todd's 
presence at Herat was intended for the thin end of the 
wedge. Lord Auckland's desire was that no Mission 
be sent till Macnaghten had received a deputation from 
Yar Mahomed Khan ; and although May was now far 
advanced, he still looked in vain for that cloud of dust 
on the Herat road. 

As a matter of fact Nazu Khan, Topshi Bashi, had set 
out late in April ; and before he reached Kandahar Pot- 
tinger had induced Kamran's son, Prince Sekunder, with 
a party of Eimak chiefs, to follow in his wake. This had 
been no easy matter, for the fall of Kandahar had stirred 
up very mixed feelings in Herat and the country round. 
Yar Mahomed himself began to grow suspicious of Eng- 
land's ultimate intentions. The disinterested benevolence 
theory, belauded by Shah Shujah, could never for one 
flickering instant convince the Wazir. Local chiefs were 
in a turmoil. Pottinger was beset with an onslaught of 
questions, to which, from lack of knowledge, he could 
seldom give accurate replies. 

In his own words: "The more Government wrote of 
their confidence in me, the more was expected from me ; 
and my non-ability to answer their questions as to our 
intentions in Afghanistan roused suspicion of impending 
danger. After a great deal of trouble, I arranged that 
some of the more turbulent people should go with the 
king's son to acknowledge Shah Shujah ; and I wrote to 
Mr. Macnaghten that I wanted them well treated, as I 
had chiefly got rid of them to allow me time to receive 
fuller instructions about the country. I begged that he 
would let me see him before deciding on any definite line 
of action, and I also begged him to be specially cautious 
with the chiefs who had gone down, as they were very 
inimical to us. The Envoy, panic-stricken, stopped the 


party, and would not let it come on for some time ; and 
eventually the answer I received to my requests was a 
copy of a treaty concluded between Sir William and the 
Topshi Bashi, an unaccredited agent; and this treaty, I 
was told, Major Todd had been appointed to bring here 
for ratification, under the title of Envoy." 

With what feelings Eldred Pottinger read this aston- 
ishing communication may be judged from his sole 
recorded comment: "I immediately applied for leave of 
absence, intending to throw up the appointment." 

For more than eighteen months he had done his utmost 
to promote England's interests, and which is of far 
greater moment to uphold her character for truth and 
justice against formidable odds : now, by way of recogni- 
tion, he received a treaty drawn up without a word of 
reference to himself, in the face of his urgent and justifi- 
able request to the contrary. As for the Mission, he 
could but await its arrival, and talk matters over with 
D'Arcy Todd, whose sympathetic and generous spirit 
could be relied upon to mitigate an unpleasant position. 

But not until the 25th of June did the new Herat 
Envoy, with seven picked officers and two lakhs of 
treasure, to make the rough places plain, set out from 
Kandahar. Todd was singularly blessed in the men chosen 
to accompany him : Captain Saunders, with three engineer 
subalterns, Edward Conolly, Abbott and North ; Rich- 
mond Shakespear, then a subaltern of Artillery; Dr. 
Ritchie, and Dr. John Login, the last an Orkney-man, 
already distinguished for remarkable talent, force of 
character and an insatiable appetite for work. An adven- 
ture of very uncertain issue lay before them ; but all were 
men of courage, equal to any fortune, good or bad ; and, 
before leaving, they were heartened by the knowledge 
that within a day or two Sir John Keane's recrudescent 
army was to march on Kabul, taking Ghazni by the way. 


Two long-looked-for convoys of grain and treasure 
had appeared at last ; but, to Keane's bitter disappoint- 
ment, the first proved useless for his advancing troops. 
Not even golden persuasion could induce the Lohani 
merchant or his followers to stir beyond Kandahar. 
Their camels? Yes, they would sell their camels. But 
without drivers these would be as devils unchained. 
There was nothing for it but to leave the priceless grain 
bags at Kandahar, where an efficient force must be 
quartered to hold the western capital of Afghanistan. 

Sick to the heart of enforced delays, he decided, there 
and then, to advance with half rations, relying on the 
later harvest of the highlands to save the situation. Now, 
every leader worthy of the name is prepared, if needs 
must, to face risks and face them boldly ; yet, even in 
the pitiless game of war, unnecessary risk of human life 
is rightly reckoned a grievous military error. In spite 
of this Sir John Keane added to his first risk another 
more serious still. He decided to dispense with his siege 
battering guns, and even came near to accepting a sug- 
gestion from Macnaghten that difficulties of food and 
transport might be lessened by leaving all European 
troops at Kandahar. Between ignorance of the country 
and the prevailing dearth of almost every requisite, save 
courage, his position bristled with difficulties. For all 
he knew, Kabul and Ghazni had yet to be taken by assault 
or by siege. None had seen the last, save D'Arcy Todd 
and Leech a sapper subaltern on political duty. Both 
described the most redoubtable fortress in the country as 
" a place of little strength " ; while Macnaghten despite 
flagrant proofs of Ghilzai hostility was ready to " stake 
his credit that not a shot would be fired in opposition to 
Shah Shujah's march on Kabul." 

Happily for his own reputation and his country's 


prestige, Keane, in his perplexity, discussed the matter 
with Captain Thompson of the engineers. 

Thompson, who possessed a soldier's head in addition 
to a soldier's courage, looked grave at mention of 
Macnaghten's proposal. 

"Whatever the strength of Ghazni," said he, " at least 
we know it is occupied in force. The son of Dost 
Mahomed may be counted on to make a vigorous defence ; 
and since your Excellency has seen fit to ask my opinion 
may I be allowed to remind you that the ultimate 
responsibility is yours and yours only. Would the 
failure and disgrace of a British army be excused by the 
plea that you acted on Mr. Macnaghten's political 
assurances and advice? " 

"Good God, no! " Sir John answered with decision. 
" But the deuce of it is we're so confoundedly in their 

"For information yes. But not necessarily for 
advice. And even in respect of the former, has your 
Excellency, in any single instance, found political 
information to be correct? " 

"I'm damned if I have! " the old soldier retorted, 
with a laugh. " Even if we must eat shoe-leather, the 
English troops shall go. But Stevenson swears the 
bullocks are totally unfit to drag the siege guns." 

So the matter was settled, and one fatal error, at least, 
nipped in the bud. 

On the 27th of June Shah Shujah with his envoy and 
an "escort" of 4800 fighting men began his triumphal 
march on Kabul. But the siege battering guns, which 
had been dragged, at enormous cost, over a thousand 
miles of country far more heart-breaking than any that 
lay ahead were left, with an unconscious touch of irony, 
to ornament the tamely-surrendered city of Kandahar. 


THOSE last critical weeks of June and July were not 
soon to be forgotten by Dost Mahomed Khan, sometime 
friend of the English ; now goaded into fierce hostility 
at sight of troops and money lavished on his thrice-beaten, 
thrice-accursed foe, who could not stand upon his own 
feet one hour without support. A bitter comment, in- 
deed, on the cheap presents and lean diet of sympathy 
meted out to himself when he had begged a little support, 
a little recognition, in return for friendly alliance with 
England, and England alone. 

Now not merely the man in him rebelled, but the 
Mahomedan chief, who saw his country overrun with 
infidels and despised " Hindustanis " ; saw, too, with 
bitterness unspeakable, that he could not even count upon 
his own people to make a stubborn, concerted stand 
against this helpless King, hoisted on to the masnad by 
Feringhi bayonets and Feringhi gold. 

Look where he would, troubles, that are by nature 
gregarious, buzzed about him like a swarm of awakened 
bees. In place of friendship, enmity ; in place of loyal 
support, treachery and rebellion. Even in Kabul itself 
disaffection grew and stirred. The Kazzilbashes of the 
Persian quarter were no longer reliable. The Kohistan 
was ripe for rebellion fostered, if not engendered, by 
the secret machinations of one Mohun Lai, Munshi to 
Alexander Burnes : a travelled Bengali, possessed of 
some talent, a flourishing conceit of himself, and a genius 
for traitor-making, "the lustre of which remained un- 

^316 J 


dimmed to the end of the war." Frankly glorying in 
this questionable gift, he himself relates how a known 
enemy of the Amir was brought by him to the favourable 
notice of Sir Alexander Burnes, who sent him a large 
sum of money from Kandahar to raise the Kohistanis 
against Dost Mahomed Khan. 

Thus the once powerful ruler found himself enmeshed 
on all sides, like a lion caught in a net. Yet to the 
very last he trusted in two things the strength of Ghazni 
and the loyalty of his sons. Ghazni Dar-us-Sultdnat, 1 
impregnable through the ages would never, surely, be 
taken by assault ; and, if besieged, might well keep the 
Feringhis occupied for many months. 

So thought the Amir ; not without reason. The 
thoughts of Sir John Keane, when at length he looked 
upon that redoubtable fortress, are not on record. It is 
conceivable that they echoed Captain Thomson's remark 
about political information, in terms too forcible for 

The sixty-foot ramparts of the citadel, set high upon 
a swelling spur, beneath a wide semicircle of hills, seemed 
silently to mock at the light field-pieces advancing against 
it. Keane 's practised eye saw at a glance that here were 
ramparts too formidable for mining or escalading ; ram- 
parts not to be breached by six- or nine-pounder guns. 
And the heavy siege-train was lying idle at Kandahar! 
Here, too, were men obviously intent on resistance ; 
though Gholam Hyder Khan, son of Dost Mahomed, 
must have quailed when he stood upon the ramparts and 
scanned through his telescope the surging, purposeful 
mass of hostility that bore down upon him in the dawn of 
a radiant July morning. 

Seen from a height, the effect of that moving concourse 
1 Seat of the Sultan's power. 


a hundred thousand all told was fairly overwhelming. 
Front and rear, so far as eye could reach, the plain was 
alive with ordered columns of horse and foot, with guns, 
camels and baggage-cattle innumerable, veiled in a vast 
dust-cloud of their own creation that, from afar, imparted 
an ominous air of mystery to the whole. 

But, for all its imposing array, Sir John Keane's army 
lacked the two essentials of conquest supplies and heavy 
guns. The first lack debarred him from the wiser course 
of simply masking Ghazni and moving on at once to take 
Dost Mahomed by surprise; the second vetoed all hope 
of breaching the walls. An unpleasant predicament, and 
one that must have seriously damaged Keane's reputation, 
had not two incongruous elements combined to avert 
disaster Mohun Lai's genius for traitor-making and the 
cool daring of three young engineers. 

The Munshi's services are recorded by himself with an 
ingenuous complacency all his own. " It was discovered 
that we are to meet opposition in the stronghold of 
Afghanistan. I therefore sent a note to my old friend 
Abul Reshed, nephew of Dost Mahomed, that if he leaves 
Hyder Khan and will join our camp, I will introduce him 
to the Envoy and his luck shall shine. He attended my 
advice, and ... in fact, gave such valuable information 
. . . that Lord (then Sir John) Keane recommended him 
strongly to the Envoy, and got 500 rupees fixed for him 
from the Mission treasury." 

Valuable information indeed ! To this highly-paid 
renegade Keane owed the knowledge that Ghazni, like 
Achilles, possessed one vulnerable spot the Kabul Gate. 
All the others had been solidly built up with masonry; 
and if this one could be blown open, the fortress might 
be carried by a coup de main. The assault must needs 
be one of simple daring ; and success, if obtained, would 


be bought with much blood. " War has its principles; 
and to hazard . . . soldiers' lives and a country's fame 
on a gamester's throw is not reckoned among them." 
But it was not in human nature to reject the one chance 
whereby a flagrant error might be promptly and bril- 
liantly redeemed. 

The order was given and executed in gallant, masterly 

At dawn on the 22nd, while the attention of the 
garrison was beguiled by a fals attack on the Kandahar 
side, the sappers, under Captain Peat, were quietly piling 
their powder- bags against the Kabul Gate. The com- 
mand of this party had, in fact, been offered by Thomson 
to his already distinguished subaltern, Henry Marion 
Durand ; a tempting offer and from a soldier of Thom- 
son's quality no small compliment. Yet it was declined. 
With characteristic magnanimity, Durand urged the 
superior claim of Peat, a senior and a Bombay engineer ; 
asking only for himself the more perilous glory of placing 
the powder and firing the train. The soldierly request 
was granted, and the task carried through in gallant 
fashion under a shower of stones, bricks and earth from 
the battlements above. 

A column of smoke and flame ; a dull reverberation and 
the crash of falling masonry heard above the rushing 
wind and the roar of the guns told Dennie's storming 
party that their own moment had come. 

The bugles sounded the advance. Then, for a few 
bewildering moments, men and officers were paralyzed by 
a countermand to retreat, the error of an instant that 
might have ruined all. 

But even as Keane watching eagerly from the heights 
despatched a flying aide-de-camp, the error was recti- 
fied. The advance pealed forth again more lustily than 


ever. With cheer upon cheer, and the sharp crackle of 
musketry, four British regiments dashed forward, like 
hounds slipped from the leash. Followed a desperate 
hand-to-hand struggle in the narrow passage, bayonets 
against swords ; then more prolonged cheers, more deafen- 
ing volleys of musketry : and Sir John Keane drew a 
mighty breath of relief. The end had justified the means. 

Ghazni had been carried, and that by one of the 
" most spirited, skilful and successful coups de main in 
the annals of British India." Mistakes, however flagrant, 
were washed out by the blood of five hundred Afghans ; 
and in place of censure, Keane reaped rewards more justly 
due to three young engineer officers, who had saved his 
reputation and their country's honour at the hazard of 
their own lives. 

The sun, looking over the eastern hills, revealed the 
Union Jack flapping and billowing in a brisk wind above 
the citadel of Ghazni, stronghold of Mahomedan dominion 
for more than a thousand years ; and Afzul Khan, arriv- 
ing with a large body of cavalry to annihilate the " beaten 
invader," knew, by that astounding sign, that the end 
had come indeed. Son of Dost Mahomed though he was, 
his courage was not proof against the shock. Forsaking 
all impedimenta, he fled post-haste toward Kabul, to bid 
his father prepare for the worst. 

But ill news, being winged, sped faster than he. Before 
sunset on the 23rd, Dost Mahomed knew that Ghazni, the 
impregnable, had gone the way of Kandahar ; knew that 
this irretrievable loss involved the capture of one son, the 
defection of another. The threefold blow went near to 
break his heart but not his spirit. Prostrated for a 
moment, he rose up the more fiercely determined to hold 
his own at Kabul or die in the attempt. 

His opening moves were prompt and to the point. 


"Bid the swiftest horseman in the camp," said he, 
" carry word to Mahomed Akbar, Light of my Eyes, that 
there is greater need for him and his men here than at 
the Kyber. Therefore let them come as wind before rain, 
staying not for food or drink by the way. Send others 
also to tell Afzul Khan changeling and no true Barakzai 
that the father he hath dishonoured will not speak with 
him. Let him come no nearer. He will not be received." 

It was done ; and within the hour he stood before his 
chiefs, a proud and gallant figure, for all the weight of 
trouble on his heart. He spoke frankly and not without 
bitterness of defection among the people ; of his fear that 
even those whom he called friends and brothers might be 
tempted to desert a losing cause. 

" Without the aid of a traitor could Ghazni have fallen 
in one night? " he demanded, clenching his hands upon 
the word as though that traitor's neck were fast between 
them. " Ghazni citadel of Mahmud, All-Conqueror ! 
It is not possible. Now listen, my brothers. If there 
be traitors here also, or cowards, wavering like corn in 
the breeze let them depart, that I may at least have 
certain knowledge of the ground whereon I stand. Dost 
Mahomed, brother of Futteh Khan r hath no need of men 
who desert the green standard in the day of battle." 

But it appeared that none such were present. All 
protested fidelity ; and in the council of war that followed 
it was decided that, before giving battle, the Nawab 
Jubbur Khan should be sent to treat with Shah Shujah 
and his foreign friends. 

" Bid them consider, Brother of my Heart," urged the 
Amir at parting, " that I make no unjust demands. I 
will even admit the claim of the Saddozai (though he 
failed to hold his own) if they, in turn, will admit my 
hereditary claim to the office of Wazir." 


Armed with this ultimatum the Nawab rode off escorted 
by half-a-dozen men ; and in four days albeit he was no 
longer young he covered the ninety miles between Kabul 
and Ghazni. Mohun Lai, the persuasive, ambled forth 
to meet him ; his old friend Sekundur Burnes greeted 
him at the piquets ; and his tent was pitched beside 
Macnaghten's own. Smiles and smooth speech were his 
portion ; but for all his earlier attachment to the English, 
the Nawab was in no pliable mood. 

Confronted with the Royal Puppet, he demanded 
bluntly, "Why all this mighty tamasha? If you are to 
be king here, what use is this army of Feringhis? If 
they are to rule which is most like of what use are 
you ? They have brought you hither with their money. 
Let them leave you now, to rule us if you can." 

But Shah Shujah, elate with victory, could afford to 
ignore the implied sneer. 

"That will be done," he made answer suavely, "when 
my kingdom shall be fully established, at which time the 
honourable Nawab Jubbur Khan shall surely enjoy con- 
fidential office close to the throne." 

The Barakzai dismissed even royal blandishments with 
a dignity and decision that by no means decreased British 
predilection in his favour. He had come upon his 
brother's business ; and without more ado he put forward, 
in plain terms, the Amir's demand. Just and natural as 
it was from one point of view, from the other, refusal 
was a foregone conclusion. With Dost Mahomed for 
Wazir, Shah Shujah might as well remain at Ludhiana as 
sit on the masnad while another ruled in his name. 

None the less, refusal, coupled with the offer of 
"honourable asylum" in British India, roused Jubbur 
Khan from tacit hostility into open anger. 

"Honourable asylum Bwnfflahl" He flung the 


phrase with scorn into Macnagh ten's politely smiling face. 
" Even were our cause far more hopeless than it is, Dost 
Mahomed Khan would sooner throw himself upon British 
bayonets than upon British protection. To the true 
Afghan freedom is life, be it never so hazardous. As 
for me, I follow the fortunes of my brother ; and as for 
you, Shah Shujah and Macloten Sahib, that have refused 
his most reasonable demand the God of Justice will 
require at your hands the lives of all the brave men who 
shall fall before this contest is at an end." 

Had a flash of foreknowledge been vouchsafed them, it 
might well have given them pause. But their eyes being 
holden, they dismissed with affable contempt a foiled 
adversary's harangue ; and next morning the Nawab rode 
forth from that city of tents with a heavy heart. For 
the first time in his life he had seen a British army 
encamped ; and its appearance, its prevailing atmosphere 
of discipline, seemed silently to proclaim the hopelessness 
of armed resistance. 

In vain one who rode at his elbow sought to cheer him 
with contemptuous comment: "Wah! Wall I Nawab 
Sahib. These Feringhis be no true fighters. Their army 
is made only of camels and canvas ; ours of mounted 
warriors with sharp swords. What a degradation to be 
overcome by camels and canvas ! " 

But the Nawab, being gifted with discernment, could 
not rid himself of the secret fear that camels and canvas 
might have the last word after all. 

On the 1st of August he reached Kabul and delivered 
his unpalatable news. Its precise effect upon his brother 
he could not accurately guess. For Afghanistan's most 
notable Amir was a man so compact of mighty opposites 
that it was hard to foresee the dominating mood of any 
given moment. At once just and unjust, merciful and 
Y 2 


cruel, rash and cautious, frank and treacherous, it seemed 
almost as if two opposing spirits struggled within him 
for supremacy. In truth the finer elements were his by 
nature; the grosser ones fostered by a life of perpetual 
warfare, perpetual excitation of every evil impulse and 
passion that Afghan flesh is heir to. Compelled, again 
and again, to choose between sin and extinction, he sinned 
boldly and flagrantly, as strong natures will. But pres- 
sure of circumstances apart, the real man leaned always 
toward the way of uprightness and courage. Under a 
serener sky and on less barren soil he might have risen to 
high rank as a ruler and a man ; and never perhaps did his 
innate nobility shine more clearly forth than in this his 
penultimate hour of kingship. 

Let the British army be never so imposing, he would 
go forth and make one stubborn stand against them in 
the valley of Maidan. For all their array of camels and 
canvas, these Feringhi-Zog had proven themselves, thus 
far, a people zealous to corrupt with money-bags and 
jagirs. 1 They had paid in gold mohurs for every hair 
in the beard of that prince among turn-coats Hadji 
Khan. It yet remained to be seen whether they could 
bring into subjection by the sword. Ghazni had fallen 
to them through treachery; and, praise be to Allah, 
though his remnant of followers might be few, there 
were now no traitors in their midst. 

The Nawab, though less assured, applauded his 
brother's spirit, and the order was given to move down 
to Arghandi en route for Maidan. But at Arghandi the 
tragic conviction was forced on Dost Mahomed that his 
confidence had been misplaced. The venal Kazzilbashes 
were secretly slipping away to the winning side ; and even 
among those that remained the poison of treachery was 
1 Grants of land. 


fast leavening the whole lump. To lean upon them were 
as serviceable as to lean upon corn-stalks. 

It was the counterpart, on a small scale, of Napoleon ? s 
desperate days at Fontainebleau ; and although Dost 
Mahomed, chief of Afghanistan, was infinitely the lesser 
man, he met this last unkindest stroke of fortune with 
no less of dignity and spirit than did the immortal 
Emperor whose name had terrorized Europe. 

If others were false, he at least was true to his man- 
hood. Taking the Koran in his hand, he rode through 
the ranks of his assembled troops ; then, confronting 
them, he adjured them by the Sacred Book, and by all 
the names of God, not to disgrace their nation and dis- 
honour their religion by rushing into the arms of one who 
had deluged the land with blaspheming infidels. 

* You that are Afghans you that are sons of the 
Prophet, stand firm and sway not in the hour of 
adyersity! " His deep voice, for all its urgency of 
appeal, had yet the ring of authority. " Rally round 
the Commander of the Faithful like heroes and true 
believers. Beat back the invader of your country or die 
in the glorious attempt. What claim on your fidelity 
has this bringer of foreign bayonets and foreign money- 
bags compared with mine? Have you not eaten my salt 
this thirteen years? Have I not served those whom I 
also ruled? " 

Pausing, he scanned the row after row of imperturbable 
faces before him, hoping against hope for some glimmer 
of response. 

Then he spoke again on a deeper note of feeling. 
"Inshallah it is the will of God. But if your hearts 
are set on seeking a new master, grant me at least one 
boon in return for years of maintenance and justice. 
Enable me to die with honour. Stand by the brother 


of Futteh Khan in his first and last charge against the 
cavalry of these Feringhi dogs. In that desperate onset 
he will fall. Then go go, every man of you, and make 
your own terms with Shah Shujah ! " 

Again silence fell and endured. Only here and there 
came a muttered response to that spirit-stirring appeal. 

Again the Amir looked desperately round upon those 
who called themselves his " followers," and, in the bitter- 
ness of his heart, disowned them once for all. 

" Cowards and traitors as you are, the brother of 
Futteh Khan has no further need of you! Go. Lose 
no time. Purchase your own safety by a mockery of 
allegiance and leave your true ruler to his fate. No 
man is strong enough to fight against Destiny. It is 
the will of God. Rookshut you have leave to depart." 

It was all they desired ; and, again like the followers 
of Napoleon, they were graceless in their eagerness to be 
gone : many plundered him in going, even as Constant 
plundered the Emperor he had served more than fourteen 

Yet, when it came to the final test, there remained of 
Dost Mahomed's army some two thousand Afghan soldiers 
who could not find it in their hearts to desert so kingly a 
ruler, so brave a man, and to this staunch remnant were 
added the troops lately arrived under Akbar Khan. 
Escorted by these, and hampered by the Asiatic's inevit- 
able crowd of relations and womenfolk, Dost Mahomed 
set out for the valley of Bamian in the Hindu Kush, 
leaving Akbar, light of his eyes, with a handful of picked 
men to cover his retreat. From Bamian he would push 
on across the Afghan border and seek refuge in Bokhara 
until the appointed day of retribution. 

This was on the 2nd of August, and by that date the 


British force was encamped within twenty-one miles of 
Arghandi, where they looked to win a signal victory and 
capture the man who had showed such scant appreciation 
of Macnaghten's generous offer. But upon the morning 
of the 3rd a party of Kazzilbash horsemen, eager to join 
the royal standard, announced the flight of the Amir. 

Here was an unlooked-for complication demanding 
instant action. While Dost Mahomed remained at 
liberty, the Shah could know neither security nor peace. 
But the Dost had a clear start of fourteen hours, plus 
twenty-one miles. Pursuit were obviously vain ; and the 
only alternative an uncertain one at best to cut across 
the mountains and intercept him at Bamian. It was a 
forlorn hope. Success hung upon time and speed. A 
picked force of two hundred and fifty cavalry was told 
off for the venture, and Captain James Outram unsur- 
passed for intrepidity and zeal volunteered to take the 
lead. Nine officers joined him, daring riders all, yet all 
defective in one great essential knowledge of the country 
and the route. 

At this crisis Shah Shujah proffered the services of 
Hadji Khan, Kakur, sometimes Governor at Bamian. 

Supposing him trustworthy, here was the very man. 
But the complexion of the wily Kakur chief had suffered 
a suspicious change on entering the dominion of an armed 
and resolute Amir. He was ill, he said, and could not 
bear the bustle of a military camp. He fell back and 
kept always a few marches in the rear. Here he recovered 
his tone in the congenial society of other intriguing 
chiefs, who awaited only the first sign of a reverse to 
annihilate the infidels root and branch. 

But when, instead of a reverse, came the fall of Ghazni, 
behold Hadji Khan, all loyalty and devotion, eager to 
congratulate his king, and claim merit for producing long- 


delayed mails and dispatches that he himself had held 
back to utilize as opportunity should serve. 

For this and other services he now reaped reward. Yet 
it was with very mixed feelings that he found himself, 
with a large body of Afghan horsemen, virtually in com- 
mand of the pursuit. Dost Mahomed, if not beloved, 
was widely respected and feared, as Shah Shujah never 
would be ; nor had the traitor any stomach for a personal 
encounter with his late friend backed by a following of 
desperate men ; an encounter that might well involve him 
in a blood feud with the inexorable Barakzais. 

Wherefore, from the start, he proceeded tactfully, yet 
persistently, to put the curb on Outram's fiery impatience 
to be gone. The start that was to be at four o'clock 
he delayed till dusk ; nor could he be persuaded to forsake 
the high road and dash straight across the hills. In this 
last decision he was wiser than he knew ; for Akbar Khan, 
with a handful of men no less desperate than his father's, 
held the top of the nearest pass for more than twenty- 
four hours. Then, seeing no sign of keen pursuit, he 
rode quietly on down the slopes of the Hindu Kush, 
"having secured the retreat of a father whose loss of 
dominion and power he was destined fearfully to avenge." 

But in the meantime all was gratulation and rejoicing. 
Confident in the Hadji's eagerness for preferment, the 
Shah hoped soon to see his enemy humbled in the dust; 
and now at least the grand military promenade that 
had spent a clear nine months in promenading from 
Ferozepore to Kabul could go forward without fear of 
further diversions by the way. 

On the 6th of August the invading force encamped at 
Nannuchi, two and a half miles from the capital ; and at 
three o'clock on the next afternoon every item of that 


force from the Shah, in jewelled coronet, coat and 
girdle, to the latest born camp followers was drawn up 
in readiness for the royal progress to the Bala Hissar, 
the fortified palace wherein Shah Shujah had not set foot 
for thirty years. 

He himself headed the procession ; not, as usual, in 
his gilded litter, but mounted on a white Kabuli charger 
caparisoned in gold. On his breast, coronet and girdle 
blazed all the royal jewels save the Kohi-noor, that 
" Mountain of Light " wrested from him, like so much 
else, by the insatiable Ranjit Singh. Near him rode 
Burnes and the Envoy, resplendent in the diplomatic 
costume of the day, plumed hat and blue frock coats- 
with collar, cuffs and epaulettes out-rivalling those of a 
field-marshal. Major-Generals, Brigadiers, and all the 
personal staff made an orgy of scarlet and gold ; and last 
though, in his own estimation, very far from least 
the inimitable traitor-maker Munshi Molum Lai flaunted 
his gayest tunic, his most majestic turban, in honour of 
the day. 

Enthusiasm, mainly due to a stirring sense of achieve- 
ment, pervaded all ranks. But, once within the narrow,, 
crowded streets of Kabul city, it became all too evident 
that neither enthusiasm, nor sense of achievement was 
shared by those for whose ostensible benefit all had been 
done and endured. 

The spectacle, as a spectacle, drew the whole of Kabul. 
An ocean of turbaned heads surged in every street and 
upon every house-top. There was music also, and a 
deafening fire of small guns. Yet never a spontaneous 
shout or acclamation greeted the long-lost, very much 
forgotten king. The unbroken solemnity suggested a 
burial rather than a resurrection. 

Whatever Shah Shujah's feelings may have been he 


did not suffer them to disturb the mask-like vacancy of 
his face. Only when, at last, he found himself within 
the citadel-palace did the real man emerge from the mask. 
Dignity and reserve were flung to the winds. With 
childish eagerness he ran from room to room, deploring 
aloud the changes and the universal dilapidation ; while 
a cortege of British officers chorused sympathy and assent, 
not without a touch of genuine emotion. 

There they left him, restored by their own courage and 
persistence to an empire sadly shrunken since the days 
of Ahmed Shah " a puppet King, an insult to his people 
and their chiefs." 

But if there were any who dared to think these things, 
none dared to speak them as yet. Exultation blind, 
unquestioning exultation was the mood of the moment ; 
and Macnagh ten's gratification knew no bounds. In his 
eyes a great revolution had been completed ; an ancient 
monarchy restored. So the second act of the Afghan 
drama culminated in a blaze of seemingly genuine success. 


IT took time for news of these great doings to reach 
the handful of British officers by now established at 
Herat, and very much occupied with their own com- 
plicated problems, with schemes of benevolence that 
should confirm and extend those already started by 
Pottinger himself. 

On the 25th of July they had enjoyed a minor triumphal 
entry on their own account. In full-dress uniforms, 
escorted by a detachment of Sepoys, they had ridden up 
to the Citadel through streets thronged with gazers, and 
had solemnly made their obeisance to Shah Kamran. By 
way of gracious acknowledgment a dinner of some fifty 
Afghan dishes had been laid in their honour upon the 
mud floor of an empty room, where they were joined by 
Yar Mahomed, in his silkiest mood, and eight or ten 
Sirdars of Herat. 

To their dismay they discovered that etiquette forbade 
them to sit cross-legged at meat, that instead they must 
contrive to kneel before their leaf platters in skin-tight 
overalls, sitting upon their heels. Now the heels of the 
Afghans were bare and their muscles inured to every form 
of genuflexion. But the heels of the British officers were 
adorned with spurs : a trivial detail that could no way 
modify a law of the Medes and Persians order. So, with 
the best possible grace, they addressed themselves to the 
problem in hand, and for half-an-hour or more, presented 
the undignified spectacle of eight tightly buttoned up 
Englishmen, hampered with swords and cocked hats, 



Tainly trying to manipulate a pillau after the manner of 
Abraham : now lunging awkwardly forward, now chasing 
rebellious fragments from havens where they should not 
be; and all the while discoursing affably upon affairs of 

Ludicrous or no, they won through their ordeal credit- 
ably enough, Tor man is man and master of his fate, even 
when that fate condemns him to eat curry and rice with 
his fingers. But the courteous, immovable gravity of 
their hosts who had never beheld a like tamasha was 
altogether beyond them. Let one man only catch the 
eye of another, and "high politics" were gracelessly 
interrupted by stifled explosions of laughter, which like 
other Feringhi peculiarities the Afghans politely ignored. 

Not until the meal was over, and eight sorely tried 
officers sank upon their several cushions, with unfeigned 
relief, did the flicker of a smile invade the gravity of 
Yar Mahomed's eyes. 

Then said D'Arcy Todd, smiling frankly back at him : 
" You doubtless perceived the cause of our amusement, 
Sirdar Sahib ? Our heels are not quite so well adapted 
for sitting upon as your own." 

"Wah! Wah! So I had reason to fear," the Afghan 
made answer affably. " Indeed, if your Honour will not 
take it amiss, all those cocked hats and feathers stooping 
over the dishes put me in mind the whole time of hungry 
fowls picking up grain ! " 

Far from taking it amiss, the simile was greeted with 
a shout of laughter, that scattered formalities to the 
winds : and the new-comers, riding back through the 
city, voted Yar Mahomed quite a good fellow in his 
way ; a far less formidable monster than Pottinger would 
have them believe. Even so does the spider beguile the 
fly that flutters into her web. At least it seemed a 


propitious beginning ; and mercifully the end was hidden 
from their eyes. 

John Login had spent the evening in Pottinger's 
quarters ; where indeed he spent much of his time during 
the next few weeks, discussing reforms and philanthropic 
enterprises dear to their hearts. The one an Orkney- 
man, the other an Ulsterman the blood of Scandinavian 
ancestors ran in the veins of both ; and both shared many 
fine elements of that heroic race. These recognized by 
each in the other rather than in himself conspired with 
mutual zeal for all that were desolate and oppressed to 
establish a very real friendship between them from the 
first. In truth the irresistible magnetism of Login, and 
the sympathetic understanding of Todd had so far healed 
the hurt inflicted by Macnaghten, that Pottinger had 
changed his mind about relinquishing a post peculiarly 
his own. But this second hot weather, following on the 
severe privations of the past year, had so damaged his 
health that change and rest from the strain of responsi- 
bility seemed imperative for a time. 

On this understanding, he and Todd decided to ex- 
change duties ; Todd to remain and act for him, while he 
carried the Treaty of Alliance to Kabul and there applied 
for a year's leave home. This arrangement greatly eased 
his mind, as also did the unaccustomed presence of other 
Englishmen, eager to share the labours and responsi- 
bilities that had too long been crowded upon one very 
broad pair of shoulders. 

At first, indeed, the change, however welcome, had 
proved something of a strain. Two years of living more 
or less as an Afghan among Afghans, culminating in 
nine months without sight or speech of a European, 
had inevitably left their mark ; though beneath his 
Eastern turban and choga he remained, in all respects, 


British to the core; the more so, perhaps, because only 
fey keeping tenacious inward hold upon the things that 
are true and lovely and of good report could he avoid 
the risk of slipping insensibly to the lower moral plane 
of those around him. For on man that mysterious 
compound of desires and convictions environment acts 
in directly opposite ways. To its insidious influence, the 
finer chameleon temperament or the grosser nature, un- 
hampered by principle, responds instinctively by conscious 
or unconscious adaptation : while the man of principle or 
of marked personality no less instinctively keeps the 
balance, as it were, by leaning in an opposite direction. 

So it was with Eldred Pottinger. For two years he 
had lived and breathed in an atmosphere poisonously 
befogged with evil. Yet, like the boy with bull's eye 
buttoned under his coat, he had kept alight the hidden 
lamp of the spirit. The outer man had conformed : 
the inner man had held resolutely aloof. Thus his 
reserve and his natural gift of silence had grown by 
the loneliness they fed on : and upon first acquaintance 
he must have been voted a dull companion by a party 
of young Englishmen, eager, interested and overflowing 
with the engaging cameraderie of the soldier. Bearded 
and turbaned, the grave thoughtfulness of his eyes 
deepened by over-intimate knowledge of evil and pain, it 
was difficult to believe him not yet eight and twenty ; 
two years younger than Login, three years younger than 
Todd. And he, too, may well have felt himself older 
in every way, than those who came to reap where he 
had sown. 

Thus at first he seemed to stand aloof even from them, 
from their optimistic half-knowledge, their projects and 
schemes. But it did not take him long to perceive the 
sterling qualities and sincerity of purpose underlying their 


youth and lightness of heart; and aloofness soon gave 
place to readier comradeship on his side, increasing 
respect on theirs. 

As for John Login, his ardour, fine temper and un- 
conquerable cheerfulness soon won the heart of Eldred 
Pottinger, even as they had captivated his companions 
on the march. For here was a man of commanding 
personality, wholesome, invigorating and steeped in the 
sovereign quality of sympathy. A face of Napoleonic 
breadth and power was crowned by a noble expanse of 
brow and lighted by eyes that had seemed to have caught 
the gleam and colour of the sea he loved and w r ould fain 
have served. Disapproving parents decreed that instead 
he should serve the maimed, the halt and the blind ; and 
India stepmother of many heroes was enriched by one 
hero the more. 

In Pottinger, Login was quick to recognize a philan- 
thropic fervour that matched his own; though all that 
he had actually done and planned for the poor of Herat 
was as hard to come at as his personal share in the defence 
of the city. To this peculiarity Login himself afterwards 
paid a tribute worth recording. 

hi Pottinger," he wrote, "was as remarkable for 
his candour in making known his mistakes as for hi* 
modesty in alluding to his services. Although he 
had faithfully reported to Government that he had 
kicked Yar Mahomed's brother out of his house,, 
for giving him the lie (which led Lord Auckland to 
declare him unfit to be our representative in Herat),, 
he had said nothing at all of his conduct in driving 
back the Persians at the last assault, when the citjr 
was almost in their hands. It was only after the 
Mission under D'Arcy Todd had arrived and Pot- 


tinger had left the place, that his boldness and 
gallantry became fully known, and his successor had 
the duty which to his generous spirit was a most 
pleasing one of reporting his heroic deeds to 
Government. Pottinger was one of those men who 
do not shine on paper, and who should never be asked 
to give a reason for their acts." 

In adding this last Login may have had in mind the 
dictum that " true heroism feels and never reasons ; and 
therefore is always right." But Governments are slow 
to recognize heroism ; and " reasons in writing " are their 
peculiar perquisites, which they can rarely afford to 

When joining Todd's mission, Login had been given 
the option of remaining at Herat or returning to Kabul 
with the bearer of the treaty ; for his services were always 
in demand. But he had not been a week in the place 
before he decided to stay. He loved a maximum of work 
as most men love a maximum of leisure. 

The poor of the city were to be his special charge, 
and his enthusiasm caught fire at the prospect of carrying 
on a work so nobly begun. 

This decision brought him into closer touch with Pot- 
tinger, whose tongue could be more readily unloosed on 
the subject of education for the forty orphans he had 
rescued from slavery, and kept under his personal care; 
or alleviations for the hapless two thousand, who still 
flocked to him in the market-place for their one meal a 
day. So it came about that the two spent many evenings 
together in Pottinger's room, discussing the details of 
schemes new and old; building visionary hospitals, 
dispensaries, bungalows, which, in due time, took on 
form and substance, and remained as legacies of high 


endeavour long after that endeavour had been brought 
to naught. 

On the particular evening in question, Pottinger had 
sat silent a long while, absorbed in a modest-looking native 
book handed to him by Login, with smiling elation, haM- 
an-hour before. The characters were Persian, the lan~ 
guage Pushtu ; the matter nothing less than the Christian 
Gospels and Epistles, on which Pottinger himself had 
been expending all his spare time and strength for the 
past few months. 

Login who included visions of conversion in his com- 
prehensive programme sat opposite, scanning his new 
friend's manuscript with intermittent murmurs of 
approval. Sprucely clad, and clean-shaven, but for a 
small moustache, his appearance accentuated Pottinger 's 
Eastern aspect, which he could not alter if he would. For 
the political uniform, mufti and books sent up with the 
army had been unceremoniously dropped by the way. 

Of a sudden both men looked up. Their eyes met in 
mutual understanding and Pottinger closed his book. 

"I'm glad you brought this, Login," said he. " It 
ought to do much good. Even if it fails to convince 
them, merely reading that incomparable story must have 
some refining and ennobling influence on those who are 
less incorrigible than Yar Mahomed and his crew. At 
least that was the idea that tempted me to try my hand 
at some sort of translation, however rough. You will 
find my friends the Syuds very open-minded. They have 
been genuinely interested even in my stuff. But this is 
a vast deal better. A pity I wasted my time " 

" My dear sir, you did nothing of the kind." 

" Well, no, I believe you're right," Pottinger admitted, 
smiling. "It's true the work helped to keep me going 
when things looked blacker than usual. And if Herat has 


no need of my lame version, at least it will please my 

"And that's a good enough excuse for its existence! 
Mine would be a proud woman if I'd achieved as much 
to say nothing of all the rest ! I was reading St. Paul, 
in Persian, with the old Chief Rabbi this morning ; and 
he told me, with tears in his eyes, that but for you they 
would have cut down his synagogue for fuel after the 
siege. They're fine fellows some of these Asiatic Jews ; 
and they seemed quite impressed with my carpet-making 

Pottinger's grave face lit up and his tone caught some- 
thing of the other's eagerness. 

" I should think so indeed ! It's a splendid plan. I 
was a fool not to think of it months ago. But I hope I 
may see it in something like working order before I leave." 

" That you shall ; if between us we can convince these 
money-grabbing Afghans of the practical advantage to 
themselves. I don't mean to let grass grow under my 
feet : and I have the advantage of being able to devote 
all my time and energy to the one problem, while 
you " 

" I oh, I've been Jack of all trades and master of 
none " 

There was no bitterness but more than a shade of 
weariness in Pottinger's tone : and Login leaning forward 
laid a hand upon his arm. 

"Tell that to the others, Pottinger; I know better. 
I'm thinking it will take time for us to discover all you 
have mastered in these two years. How about Yar 
Mahomed Khan? " 

Pottinger smiled and shook his head. " My dear Login, 
no Englishman with a rudiment of a conscience will ever 
master that devil in man's clothing." 


" Is that so, indeed ? Bhuggat Ram is beginning to 
cherish hopes " 

4 ' Bhuggat Ram ? Oh you mean Todd. Perhaps 

it's as well. I cherished them once ! They don't thrive 
well in the soil of Herat. But his kismet may be better 
than mine ; and he will bask in the Envoy's favour, 
which is always sustaining ! But we are deserting your 
carpet plan? Have you made good progress lately? " 

Yes ; Login, being the man he was, had moved a moun- 
tain or so with a thrust of his broad shoulders : and for 
an hour or more the two sat over Pottinger's rickety 
writing table hammering out fresh details of a scheme to 
revive the making of carpets, which had long since been 
the glory of Herat. In this her day of ruin and stagna- 
tion, there remained no more than two or three old men 
who knew anything at all of the once famous industry. 
But that was enough for John Login. He brought his 
magnetism to bear on those aged Heratis; and before 
long, by sheer persistence, had breathed life into a dead 
industry that would provide occupation for hundreds of 
idle hands : a far more important consideration in his 
eyes than merely replenishing the coffers of Herat. Pot- 
tinger had started agricultural relief works for men and 
boys, and had set the lame and blind to grinding corn ; 
but Login hoped to employ in his new industry many of 
the two thousand supported by his forerunner since the 
siege. Women and old men, unfit for heavier work, 
could very well be utilized for spinning, sorting and card- 
ing the necessary cotton and wool. The work might be 
coarse at first, but it would improve; as indeed it did, 
with such astonishing rapidity that within a year Login's 
Herati carpets vied with the best that Persia could 

It was at this time that Pottinger decided on taking 
z 2 


six of his orphan boys to India for medical training. 
The rest he could confidently leave to the care of Login 
and Todd. One of them was already Login's devoted 
slave; following him everywhere, a silent, adoring 
shadow ; and sleeping like a dog outside his door ; till the 
Hakeem Sahib whom all deemed a wizard raised him 
to the dignity of service, and the cup of his content was 

Throughout August's rainless heat the houses and 
streets of Herat were well-nigh unbearable. But the 
officers of the Mission absorbed in new interests and new 
work abated their activity no whit. Though none 
might surpass Login for energy and zeal, each in his 
own sphere was equally well employed : Saunders on the 
fortifications ; the subalterns drilling and organizing 
Kamran's remnant of an army; D'Arcy Todd involved in 
a maze of problems, whereof was none more insoluble 
than Yar Mahomed Khan. 

In her first experience of the British officer at close 
quarters Herat was blest indeed. Arthur Conolly most 
lovable and incorrigible of idealists had led the way, 
and lifted expectation high. Followed Eldred Pottinger, 
less ardent and imaginative, yet a man of supreme courage 
and resolution ; neither smoking nor drinking, and of 
such consistent self-restraint in private as in public life 
that Mahomedans deemed him a Syud of exceptional 
holiness. And now, behold, eight other Englishmen of 
like countenance; men who added to ability and enthu- 
siasm, a moral motive power forged by the strong 
religious convictions of their day; who, without any 
temple, met together for worship ; and by their blameless 
lives, in the midst of debauchery, set a living example of 
the faith that was in them ; an example worth more than 
a library of sermons. 


As for the Herati Afghans, denounced by Login as 
"a very drunken lot," they marvelled, from first to last, 
at the folly of men who abjured the convivial joys of 
intoxication, and that although wine was not forbidden 
by their religion. 

In addition to this, and other peculiarities, the fact 
that all were bachelors bewildered a folk who reckoned 
marriage not merely a personal necessity, but a man's 
first duty to his nation, race or clan. 

James Abbott has told how his Afghan servant spoke 
openly of the general amazement, adding: "Not all our 
mysteries of steam, bare heads, coat tails, cock's feathers 
and unveiled women, so bewildered and impressed the 
fancy of Mahomedans as that an article made in pairs 
should, among Feringhis, be constantly found separated ; 
like disunited legs of compasses, or a gross of boots for 
the right foot ! It is vain to argue the point, to talk 
of wandering comets : for in their eyes it seems so simple 
to take a wife at each important place." 

But Pottinger and his successors strangely ignored this 
practical view of the matter. Less zealous than Burnes 
to do in Rome as the Romans did, none among them 
found it necessary to increase his knowledge of Eastern 
ways and wiles by establishing a harem, or taking to 
himself a wife from among the "children of Ammon." 
Pottinger's ascetic fashion of life had been excused on 
the ground that he was Syud and a friend of Syuds. But 
these others also ! Wah I Wall ! It was incredible ! 
None the less, incredible or no, the fact remained : and 
what is more, the impression of British character thereby 
established endured long after missions and treaties and 
visions of political expansion had melted into the air. 

Unhappily at Kandahar and Kabul it was otherwise. 
Login himself has said that if the first European officers 


established in those cities had shown the same high sense 
of their responsibilities as Christian gentlemen, the same 
anxiety not to compromise the dignity and character of 
their countrymen in the eyes of hostile Mahomedans, 
" we might, humanly speaking, have been spared a very 
humiliating chapter in the history of Afghanistan." And 
in all they did, as in all they were, that devoted self- 
sacrificing band of soldiers commanded admiration and 
respect, even from the Afghans who stood amazed at 
their mania for gratuitous exertion ; while the people 
themselves " marvelled that strangers to them in faith 
should lavish lakhs of rupees and all their energies to 
alleviate the sufferings of wretched beings who could never 
even hope to be useful citizens." 

One man alone among them all execrated that which 
excited wonder in the rest. He saw, in their enthu- 
siastic benevolence, merely a veiled plot to render him 
more than ever abhorrent to the people he ground under 
his heel. But for the moment it suited him to give 
these madmen their head ; while he stood aside, watchful, 
complacent biding his time. 

So thought Pottinger, who alone knew the man ; and 
did not envy Todd the coming political duel whereof 
he could foresee almost every move. But to say too 
much in the way of warning were merely to seem the 
" croaker " Macnaghten already believed him ; and he 
wisely contented himself with emphasizing afresh two 
points that in his opinion were of supreme importance. 

"Remember this, Todd," said he at parting, "if you 
want to avoid a repetition of the horrors w r e have but 
just pulled through, you must insist on appointing one 
of our own officers to superintend the cultivating and 
storing of grain for famine relief ; and be sure you keep 
up my new plan of paying all moneys direct from the 


British treasury to those concerned. If you do that, you 
may hold on here. If not well, I wouldn't give much 
for your chance of success. You can take my word for 
it, there are only two courses open to us in this place. 
Either we must decisively assert our power, or take our- 
selves off and leave the two monsters here to misgovern 
as they please." 

But neither Todd nor Macnaghten were disposed to 
insist on measures likely to prove unpopular. Concilia- 
tion was the catchword of the moment, and the advice 
of the one man who could speak from intimate knowledge 
was disregarded with the inevitable result. 

Months after, when the costliness and impracticability 
of Macnaghten 's Herat policy had been proven up to 
the hilt, John Login wrote to a friend : " Yar Mahomed 
was quite right in supposing that the influence of the 
English at Herat would have become far too deep-rooted 
to suit his taste. . . . Yet I have little doubt that had 
the arrangement made by Eldred Pottinger been con- 
tinued of making payment direct from the British 
Treasury instead of through the Wazir we might have 
held Herat throughout all the subsequent reverses in 
Afghanistan." " If s " and "buts" are kittle-kattle. 
Change one least factor in past events, and no man living 
can gauge the result. Yet in this case there is good 
reason to believe that John Login spoke truth. 

For him, more than for any of the others, Pottinger 's 
departure would be a loss indeed. But all had been set 
in working order ; the high-sounding treaty of concilia- 
tion ratified ; and there remained no further reason for 

On September the 1st in accordance with native 
custom the travellers spent their last night encamped 
without the walls : Ritchie and Pottinger, with his six 


orphan boys, and his old friend Hakeem Mahomed Hus- 
sain, lately returned to the city ; their safe transit ensured 
by a guide and Todd's former escort of twenty horse, 
added to Pottinger's Heratis under Allah Dad Khan. 

On the 10th owing to unexpected delays they set 
out for Kabul, by way of the Hazara highlands and the 
Valley of Bamian : Pottinger severely pulled down in 
health, yet upheld in spirit by the knowledge that he 
had, at all events, done his duty to the utmost, regardless 
of personal results. 

Within a year he would return, please God, created 
anew by the long sea voyage, and by sights and sounds 
of home. Yet turning as he rode away, for a farewell 
look at the white- walled, many-towered city of his baptism 
in suffering, action, fame he wondered in his heart 
whether he would ever set eyes on it again ; whether 
D'Arcy Todd, armed with more of enthusiasm than 
knowledge, would hold his own against the Napoleon of 
Central Asia for the space of a year. 


THAT march to Kabul leisurely, uneventful and in- 
finitely welcome to a devout lover of the road lasted 
near two months ; two months of blessed respite from 
official correspondence, from political friction and re- 
sponsibility. So far as he could judge, the outlook 
seemed promising enough. At Kabul, Shah Shujah sat 
in state on the throne of his " very few ancestors," while 
his noble allies rejoiced greatly after the peculiar fashion 
of their race. At Herat he had left a devoted band of 
men who if success were commensurate with effort 
could scarcely fail of achievement. Yet, in that brief 
two months both Macnaghten and Todd made more than 
a few discoveries sufficiently disconcerting to men whose 
belief in the Great Game stood only second to their belief 
in God. 

Macnaghten had looked that D'Arcy Todd's report 
should justify his assertion to Lord Auckland that British 
influence could only be established at Herat by " gaining 
the confidence of the Wazir and his co-operation in the 
removal of existing abuses." 

But before October was out, Todd, the hopeful and 
zealous, found himself constrained to echo the conviction 
of Pottinger the supposed croaker and alarmist, that " a 
friendly footing here seems quite impossible, and it 
appears to me the only alternative is to attack or be 

Nor was his opinion of Yar Mahomed now our ally 
by treaty more encouraging than that already received. 



"The fact seems," he wrote, "that honest and 
open policy can be neither appreciated nor under- 
stood by those . . . who believe that open dealing is 
the smooth surface which conceals a more dangerous 
design. That we should win by bounty what we can 
take by force seems to them absurd. Benefits, there- 
fore, only weaken decision. . . . Since beginning 
this letter I have been favoured with a visit from the 
Wazir, attended by sixty armed men ; ostensibly 
applicants for bounty, but really guards in case of 
treachery. He made new and large demands on the 
Mission Treasury, doubtless with a view to ascer- 
taining how far my suspicions were roused and 
incensing against us those whose claims we might 
deny. I put him off with fair words . . . and said 
I had heard of the arrival of our treaty of friendship 
at Kandahar ; adding, that I soon expected to hear it 
had been printed and dispersed throughout the 

" This appeared to startle him. 6 What,' said he, 
' do you always print your treaties? ' ' Yes,' I re- 
peated. * We can afford to do so, for we never 
break them.' They refused to drink our tea, per- 
haps fearing poison ; and the chief Eunuch seemed 
so alarmed at the turn of the conversation that he 
abruptly broke up the party and they took their 

So much for the wisdom of blackening the British name 
in Central Asia by overtures to a miscreant like Yar 
Mahomed Khan. 

Happily for Macnaghten this cheering communication, 
though written in October, did not reach him till Novem- 
ber, for he was beset with uncongenial discoveries nearer 


home. Even in the very month of his triumphal entry 
he found himself confronted by three outstanding facts, 
calculated to test optimism even of the blindest : D6bt 
Mahomed had escaped ; the Shah was openly disappointed 
and ill-content with his shrunken kingdom ; while his 
' * popularity " stood, self proven, a fiction which must 
either be laboriously kept up, or acknowledged at the cost 
of exposing the false foundation beneath the whole 
imposing house of cards. 

The proverbial immunity of the " unjust" was not to 
be long enjoyed by William Macnaghten. Within a week 
of his arrival Outram 's daring and battered little party 
returned to Kabul minus the Amir, and were greeted with 
the inevitable touch of condescension that is the portion 
of unsuccess. Friends bade them be thankful they had 
returned intact from their crazy wild-goose chase, and 
Sir John Keane critically eyeing thirteen of his boldest 
and most efficient officers remarked with conviction : 
"By Gad! I didn't suppose there were thirteen such 
asses in the whole of my force ! " 

But for Macnaghten the matter was far too serious to 
be dismissed with pleasantries. The tale Outram had to 
tell proved that once more Hadji Khan had been true to 
his reputation : that treachery, not failure, had sent the 
pursuers back empty handed, after a week of severe 
fatigue and exposure cheerfully endured by officers and 
men ; a week of incessant clash between the eagerness of 
Outram and the wiles of the Afghan chief. His excuses 
had been varied and endless. But when at length he 
found Outram proof against privations, fatigue and 
artifice, he had thrown off his mask and declared that his 
Afghans were not to be relied on if pitted against Dost 
Mahomed's men. By this time they had reached Bamian, 
only to find that the Amir was thirty miles off and beyond 


the Afghan border, which Outram had orders not to 

The game was up, and the Hadji triumphed ; but not 
for long. He was arrested by order of an infuriated 
King. Other proofs of treason were readily found, and 
the prince of turncoats was condemned to end his days as 
a state prisoner in Hindostan. 

It was reported that in one of his many altercations 
with Outram he had said : " I am hated now by Afghans 
for my friendship with the English. Next to the King, 
I am the most unpopular man in the country." A say- 
ing long remembered against him, though for once in his 
life if never before or since he had spoken the simple 
truth. The " adoration " discovered by Macnaghten at 
Kandahar was elsewhere conspicuously absent. Worse 
than all, the King himself evinced little of gratitude to 
his benefactors, and less of satisfaction with the mutilated 
remnant of an empire that had once extended from 
Balkh to Shikarpore, from Herat to Kashmir. 

Sitting apathetically day after day at the window of 
his high citadel, looking out upon the domes and flat 
mud roofs of Kabul, upon the once familiar expanse of 
orchard, lake and barren mountain, no thrill of elation 
stirred within him. A tired, disillusioned old man of 
seventy, he suffered the common experience of all who 
return in age to scenes loved in their youth. City and 
palace, lake and valley seen for thirty years through the 
magnifying lens of memory seemed unaccountably small 
and mean ; scarce worth the pains he had been at to 
regain them, or the irksome burden of indebtedness to 
those masterful, ubiquitous Feringhis, who had generously 
endowed him with the semblance of power, while reserv- 
ing the substance for themselves. Forgetful, too soon, 
of exiled years, of hardships and successive defeats, he 


resented their conspicuous share in his restoration and 
the still more conspicuous part they seemed like to play 
in reorganizing his kingdom. 

But the man's courage was of doubtful hue ; and if he 
mistrusted the Feringhis, his mistrust of the Afghans 
went deeper still. He had enough of shrewdness to per- 
ceive that it was one thing to sit enthroned in the Bala 
Hissar, and very much another to control a mercenary, 
quarrelsome and restless people, for whom he had little 
love in his heart, and in whose eyes his dependence on 
infidels had greatly humiliated him. So he, like Mac- 
naghten, found himself between two fires : doubtful of 
all about him, yet more profoundly doubtful of himself. 

To both it was plain that the moment had arrived for 
redeeming Lord Auckland's promise, contained in the 
Simla manifesto, wherein his lordship had " confidently 
hoped " that the Shah would be " speedily replaced on 
his throne by his own subjects and adherents " ; to which 
hope had been added the assurance that " when once he 
shall be secured in power, and the independence and 
integrity of Afghanistan established, the British army 
shall be withdrawn." But a promise so vaguely worded 
and qualified left many loopholes of escape, should fulfil- 
ment prove distasteful or impolitic. In the first place 
Shah Shujah had not been enthroned by his subjects and 
adherents, but by British money and arms. In the 
second place, the mere fact that both he and Macnaghten 
doubted his ability to hold his own, without British sup- 
port, was a scathing commentary on that disingenuous 
proclamation, which had set the entire project in train. 

It was a time of painful uncertainty and indecision ; 
a time fraught with big issues for all concerned. 
Throughout those last weeks of August '39 the honour 
of England, the prestige of British arms and the fate of 


countless brave men hung trembling in the balance. 
But though Macnaghten might cherish secret misgivings, 
and the Shah secret distrust, on the surface all was gaiety 
and reaction after nine months of strenuous effort and 

Officially gilded, the net result seemed all that could 
be desired. It was given out that a series of masterly 
operations had been crowned with uniform success ; that 
Russia had been rebuked ; Persia overawed ; Dost 
Mahomed's power broken for good ; that the Shah re- 
stored, "by the blessing of God," to an undisputed 
throne, held the keys of India in his hand. 

By September, news of Kandahar " adoration," and of 
Ghazni, reached England, where Whig enthusiasm ran 
high. Sir John Hobhouse proudly declared himself the 
father of the war, and extolled Lord Auckland as a man 
of extraordinary qualities " the ablest Governor-General 
India had seen for a long time." Approval resulted in 
the usual crop of honours, bestowed with more than the 
usual lack of discernment. Auckland became an earl, 
Keane a peer, Macnaghten a baronet. Only the Iron 
Duke in his wisdom bade them remember the lesson of 
Moscow, and prophesied that where their military suc- 
cesses ended, their real troubles would begin. 

At Kabul the prevailing spirit of jubilation found ex- 
pression in reviews, races, entertainments, and finally in a 
grand Durbar, whereat Shah Shujah aping the custom of 
western kings distributed broadcast a newly-invented 
Durani order commemorating, in Durand's trenchant 
phrase, " the recovery of his lost throne in a manner dis- 
creditable to himself and dishonouring to his people." 

As for the British officers and men, happy in the belief 
that they would soon leave Afghanistan for good, they 
amused themselves to the top of their bent : riding races, 


buying mementoes of a unique experience, exploring with 
eager interest convivialities of the living, relics of the dead. 

Of the first there was no lack in a city whose men were 
noted for hospitality, and her women for their beauty and 
love of intrigue. Afghans in general are consumedly 
jealous for the honour of their wives. Yet it would 
appear that the ill repute of Kabul was mainly founded 
on fact, and that her women were not seriously libelled 
by the well-known saying: "The flour of Kabul is not 
without lime, nor the woman of Kabul without a para- 
mour." Certain it is that even among better class 
Afghans, so long as purdah was strictly kept, she enjoyed 
an amount of individual freedom rare in the East. All 
things considered, it is not surprising if at times she made 
ill use of it, and the boorkha, like charity, cloaked a 
multitude of sins. Beneath its shapeless folds lurked the 
eternal siren, in gaily coloured tunic and wide trousers, 
hair elaborately plaited and plastered, ears outlined with 
silver rings, eyelids heavy with antimony, cheeks adorned 
with rouge and tinsel patches of gold or silver cunningly 
set the immemorial instigator of blood feuds and dis- 
turber of household peace. 

But socially, as elsewhere in India, she seemed almost 
non-existent. At an Afghan soiree, attended out of 
sheer curiosity by Outram and three friends, she was 
represented only by the inevitable nautch girl and two 
ancient Sybils who supported her in song and dance. 
Their host was none other than Abdul Reshed, who, at 
Molum Lai's instigation, had sold Ghazni and his uncle 
the Amir for five hundred rupees. To this not very 
creditable service he owed the privilege of entertaining 
British officers, who were rather amused than impressed 
by their first introduction to the "town house" of a 
Barakzai lord. 


A rough wooden door, a narrow passage black as the 
pit; an open courtyard roofed with stars, and furnished 
with refuse heaps and tethered horses ; a staircase, narrow 
as the passage, with never a chirag to reveal murderous 
roof -beams to the drunken or the unwary ; an empty 
balcony, and beyond, at last, the inner room, dimly lit, 
filled with bearded men. Here they were greeted with 
the prescribed chorus of kind inquiries: "Jor-asti? 1 
Khush-asti? 2 Salaam aleikum: " 3 and here, lolling on 
cushions, they were served with fruits and pillau, with 
the pungent Kabul spirit twice the strength of gin. 
Finally a hookah was passed, without prejudice, from 
mouth to mouth, not excluding the hired band, whose 
inhuman energy and weird minor discords precluded all 
necessity for making conversation. 

Followed the nautch girl and her attendant crone, 
probably the first seen in Kabul since the fall of Dost 
Mahomed Khan. For that despised barbarian had, of 
late years, rivalled Cromwell himself in the enforcement 
of rigid morality upon his people. The professional 
dancer had been abolished ; the production of alcohol put 
down by law. Now, in a moment, in the twinkling of 
an eye, all was changed. With the advent of a Christian 
army the trade in spirits soon became the most profitable 
in the town ; while the prompt revival of the nautch girl 
re-asserted once more the futility of attempting to lift 
human character by legislation ; of enforcing from with- 
out that which can only be permanently wrought from 

Thus did the frank sociability of the Afghans, and 
their zest for manly sports, effectually blind officers and 
men to the devils of cruelty and cunning that lurked 

1 Are you strong ? 2 Are you happy ? 

3 Peace be with you. 


within. They were unanimously voted excellent fellows, 
and mutual satisfaction was the mood of the moment. 

None the less, before the middle of September all were 
impatient for the expected order to return. Life at 
Kabul, though an amusing novelty, soon proved too 
costly to suit the proverbially lean purse of the British 
officer. In a country where wine sold at three hundred 
rupees a dozen and cigars at a rupee apiece, he had no 
desire to establish a continuing city; and the Bombay 
troops under Willshire received with joy the command 
to march on September the 18th, via Kandahar and Sindh, 
calling at Khelat by the way to punish Mehrab Khan. 
This addition to their programme proved conclusively that 
Keane had no intention of forgetting the ill impression 
made on him in his last interview with Major-General 
Nott. Cheated of Ghazni, the old Company's officer was 
now to be cheated also of his one remaining chance of 
distinction the capture of Khelat. It mattered nothing 
to Keane that, as early as July, Nott had received political 
communications leading him to expect that this duty 
would be entrusted to himself, and had not merely 
collected important information, but had caused the 
fortress to be secretly measured ; while Willshire knew no 
more of the place than Keane had known of Ghazni when 
he lef Kandahar. In Nott's eyes it was all of a piece 
with the rest. Just or unjust, he had felt convinced that 
the laurels would be reserved for a "Queen's General," 
and it was so. With a heart over-full of bitterness he 
pigeon-holed his information and grimly awaited the 

On September the 18th the Bombay troops left Kabul, 
and those who wished them God-speed looked eagerly for 
their own order of release. They had done their duty. 
Shah Shujah's kingdom was established. On the surface 

A A 


there appeared no reason for hesitation or delay. But 
below the surface lay the discreditable truth that the whole 
fair-seeming fabrication could not be trusted to remain 
intact if the scaffolding were removed; and the longer 
Macnaghten looked at the quandary he had so zealously 
prepared for himself, the more he shirked the only honest 
course of action. His faith in Shah Shujah's popularity, 
though shaken, was not extinct ; yet he dared not risk 
leaving too soon the King, who was no King, lest Mehrab 
Khan's prophecy be fulfilled and the Government of India 
overwhelmed with disgrace. Like many men who have 
risen in a graded service, and breathed too long the 
relaxing air of officialdom, he feared responsibility. But 
his position, as supreme representative of Great Britain 
and Central Asia, was unique; and for the first time in 
his life he had tasted the intoxicating wine of power, 
that has unsteadied stronger men than he. His real, if 
unadmitted, desire was to remain : and with mortals of 
average morality, neither conscience, nor judgment, but 
the secret desire of the heart is the ruling factor in the 
day of decision. 

And where desire is, there will pretexts be gathered 
together. Of these there were plenty to hand, though 
the obvious objections against military occupation out- 
weighed them in the scale. Ranjit Singh was dead, and 
India threatened with serious disturbance in the Punjab 
could afford neither money nor troops to garrison a 
country like Afghanistan. On the other hand Pottinger 
had reported rumours of a large Russian force preparing 
to move on Khiva, and Shah Shujah did not conceal his 
fear that Dost Mahomed, backed by Akbar Khan and 
the implacable Ghilzais, would seize the first opportunity 
of dislodging him from the throne. 

Instantly Macnagh ten's vivid imagination pictured a 


Russian army on the banks of the Oxus ; and, in spite of 
Keane's tacit disapproval, he decided on pushing a small 
force at once across the Hindu Khush, with the misty 
idea of liberating Stoddart, pursuing Dost Mahomed, and 
forestalling Russian battalions, after wintering in the 
valley of Bamian. The fact that two stupendous passes, 
blocked for at least six months, lay between Bamian and 
Kabul, dismayed him no whit. The order was given. 
A detachment of Ghurkhas and gunners took a month 
surmounting the difficulties of the route " in order, after 
much toil and labour, to lodge an excellent battery of 
horse artillery where it could not be of any use." 

In the mean time Dr. Lord a political over-eager for 
any aggressive move was sent after them, with an 
Afghan escort, to superintend the valiant undertaking. 
But in less than a week he was back again, open-mouthed, 
harassing Macnaghten 's nerves with a startling tale of 
the Dost, established at Kunduz and reinforced by the 
whole country west of the Hindu Khush ; of open rebellion 
only forty miles from Kabul, and all Turkistan pouring- 
forward to help the Amir recover his throne. 

For a man in search of pretexts here was treasure- trove 
indeed ! Lord Keane was promptly informed that no 
mere brigade, but the first division of the Bengal army 
must remain in Afghanistan. 

His lordship, grown sceptical by now of the Envoy's 
alarms, replied indifferently that Macnaghten was wel- 
come to any troops needed by the King, so long as he 
himself could get quit of the country without further 

Macnaghten, thankful to be relieved of indecision, 
wrote a long " official " to Lord Auckland explaining 
and justifying his change of plans when lo, it transpired 
that the formidable rising was no more than a fairy-talc 

A A 2 


invented by an escort unwilling to cross the Hindu Khush ; 
that these were openly retailing their successful ruse as 
an excellent joke, seasoned with unflattering comments on 
the Hakeem Sahib's prompt retreat. 

"Inshallah! Great was our kismet!" said they, 
" for, although it is the nature of Shah Shujah to run, 
we had not supposed that an Inglesi officer Sahib could be 
made to run so readily, or so fast! " 

To be convicted of having swallowed whole a palpably 
improbable scare was not a little humiliating for both 
Englishmen ; though in Macnaghten's case there was com- 
pensation. The fairy-tale had served its turn. He had 
committed himself to Keane and Lord Auckland, and had 
no mind to draw back. On so paltry a chance did the 
whole disastrous business turn. 

But as yet the Envoy saw only the throne safeguarded 
and his own secret wish fulfilled. 

" Instead of keeping clearly in sight the primal inter- 
ests of his Government," wrote Sir Henry Durand when 
all was over, " in lieu of seizing the favourable moment 
for disembarrassing it from a position every one saw to 
be faulty, he allowed minor motives, present importunities 
and phantasms of a remote danger to warp his judgment 
from a perception of his country's real honour and advan- 
tage, and by so doing tarnished the one, compromised the 
other, and wrapped the close of Lord Auckland's Indian 
career in consternation and gloom." 


BUT it was one thing to decide on military occupation 
in force, and quite another to find suitable accommodation 
for officers and men, stores, ammunition and horses 
the endless impedimenta of soldier life. General orders 
of October the 9th decreed that the division be broken 
up into detachments that should garrison the four chief 
cities Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad and Kandahar ; assign- 
ing to Kabul the 13th Light Infantry and 35th Native 
Infantry, with a light field battery and the Shah's troops 
under Brigadier Roberts, father of the present earl. 
For these, suitable cover must be found or prepared before 
the terrible Kabul winter set in, since no actual canton- 
ment could possibly be built until the following spring. 
But Macnaghten, very much occupied with state fes- 
tivities and formalities, seemed inclined to evade this 
fresh problem, though pressed by Henry Durand, the 
engineer in charge, for leave to strengthen the Bala 
Hissar and put up temporary quarters within its walls. 

Set upon a height overlooking Kabul, this citadel 
within a citadel was the one point of strength in a 
singularly defenceless town, wedged between one of the 
Pughman Hills and an outlier of the Hindu Khush. At 
the roots of the most easterly hill, the Bala Hissar reared 
battlemented walls, woefully out of repair and circled by 
a broad stagnant moat. The space within a small town 
in itself occupied one-fourth of the city. A two- 
storeyed gate, on the west, opened straight into the streets 
of Kabul ; and on the south-west, perched upon a cone- 



shaped hill, towered the upper citadel, commanding the 
entire fort, city and suburbs. Though its own gateway 
and bastioned ramparts were now in ruins, it was evident 
even to Macnaghten that, from a military point of view, all 
hinged on repairing and securing this stronghold, wherein 
a thousand men and a few guns could cheerfully set all 
Afghanistan at defiance. The lower citadel contained 
buildings in plenty that could be utilized for troops and 
stores. But the Shah raised puerile difficulties ; Mac- 
naghten seemed loth to press the point; and Durand, in 
despair, appealed to Brigadier Sale. Between them they 
had their way, and the hero of Ghazni lost no time in 
setting his pioneers to work. 

But his triumph was short-lived. Sight of the new 
scheme actually going forward proved too much for the 
royal nerves. 

"Mackloton Sahib, this thing entirely may not be," 
declared his Majesty in a fever of agitation. " My people 
send complaints, many and urgent. If I close my ears 
to them, shall I not become unpopular even as the Amir ? 
It is not meet that Feringhi soldiers be lodged in a fort 
overlooking mine own palace and grounds. Moreover, I 
was minded to make it a residence for the women of my 

Objections frivolous enough, yet none too easily dis- 
missed. By tact or insistence, a more resolute man had 
doubtless gained the day ; but Macnaghten, fatally pliable 
at all times, was further hampered by his own false 
position. Without attempting to argue the point, he 
promptly put a stop to all work inside the Bala Hissar 
and thereby laid the foundation-stone of ultimate disaster. 

Kabul's one defensible position was turned into a harem 
for eight hundred and sixty chattering women, and the 
upper storey of the town gateway consecrated to the 


royal band : tom-toms and long brass tubes that brayed 
and clattered and squealed in hideous dissonance at stated 
intervals during the day and night. How far Shah Shujah 
may have been prompted by the cunning of his race it 
were impossible to say. But if he secretly desired to 
cripple the power of his over-enterprising friends, this 
last ironic whim was a master-stroke indeed. 

Foiled, disgusted, yet by no means baffled, young 
Diirand still cherished a praiseworthy determination " to 
keep such hold of the Bala Hissar that its citadel could 
be occupied at any moment, should urgent need arise.*' 

Looking round the lower citadel with this end in view, 
his choice fell upon two houses lately built by Dost 
Mahomed for himself. These were set one at each end 
of a walled garden, and had been appropriated by Mac- 
naghten for himself and his suite. But since he intended 
to winter with the King in the milder climate of Jalala- 
bad, Durand ventured the suggestion that the Amir's 
houses would make fair officers' quarters ; while sheds for 
the troops could soon be run up inside the walls. To 
him it seemed that, for a matter so important, he asked 
no great sacrifice of private convenience. But the pro- 
posal was ill received; and the harassed subaltern sug- 
gested instead that the native regiment should occupy the 
Shah's stables, while the 13th could be put under tem- 
porary cover near the upper citadel. 

To this the Envoy agreed. But Shah Shujah and the 
Kazzilbash party were plainly set against any plan that 
would keep Kabul under efficient military control ; and 
Macnaghten painfully aware of the dissonance between 
British promise and British performance yielded yet 
again, lest he engender suspicion that his Government 
meant to keep a permanent hold upon the country. The 
troops were graciously permitted to be quartered in the 


Bala Hissar throughout the winter, on the understanding 
that, in the following spring, cantonments should be built 
on the plain without the walls. 

Shah Shujah, having achieved his end, generously 
offered for this purpose one of his royal orchards ; a long, 
low expanse of land, lying between river and canal, com- 
manded on all sides by forts, villages and hills a pleasant, 
innocuous spot for a military picnic; but less pleasant, 
and far from innocuous, when Reality, in terrible fashion, 
dispelled the Dream of a grateful King, a reformed 
Government and a devoted people. 

In the circumstances, Durand was not sorry to find his 
name among those detailed to return with Lord Keane ; 
and the General himself who must have felt a warm 
regard for this gallant, capable subaltern remarked to 
him on the day of departure : "I hoped you might 
remain here, for the good of the public service; but as 
it is, I can only congratulate you on quitting this country. 
For, mark my words, it will not be long before there is 
here some signal catastrophe." 

But all thought of catastrophe was far from Mac- 
naghten and from those who relied on his judgment. 
Almost in the same moment that he had demanded extra 
troops, " affairs were considered to be so secure that he 
and the married officers determined to send for their 
wives." John Conolly was despatched with an escort to 
bring from India some thirty English women and children, 
with all their household goods ; and Captain George Law- 
rence of the 2nd Light Cavalry was appointed Personal 
Assistant to the Envoy in his stead. 

A short, slim man with quick-glancing eyes like a bird, 
and an inexhaustible fund of energy and good spirits, 
was George Lawrence, commonly called " Cocky " Law- 


rence by his friends. Singularly unlike his famous elder 
brothers, he yet shared, in full measure, many of their 
finest qualities ; and in this respect, as in respect of 
personal devotion, Macnaghten could have made no 
happier choice. Lawrence's faith in the wisdom and 
ability of his chief remained invincible until the end ; 
though, happily for himself and his wife, he refrained, in 
one important instance, from following that chief's lead. 
Let affairs be considered never so secure, he had the good 
sense to recognize that Afghanistan was no fit country 
for Englishwomen. Wherefore, when Lady Macnaghten 
and other deserted wives set out, eagerly enough, on 
their adventurous journey into the wilds, Charlotte Law- 
rence betook herself and her children to England with a 
heavy heart. But, before the Afghan drama was played 
out, she had reason to bless her husband's chivalrous 

For the present, no doubt, many thought him foolish 
not to include his wife's name in Conolly's list. It seemed 
evident to all that Kabul was to become indefinitely a 
pleasant, healthy British cantonment, with a Royal 
Figurehead to keep up appearances. A false estimate of 
Afghan character, and the absence of anything like united 
opposition, tended insensibly to put them all off their 
guard ; and, Keane's division being gone, those that 
remained proceeded to make themselves at home in their 
new surroundings with that ready adaptability to circum- 
stance which has played no mean part in the building up 
of England's empire. 

Macnaghten and his staff being comfortably established 
in the houses of Dost Mahomed Khan, the Shah pro- 
ceeded to bestow on other British officers sundry houses 
of departed chiefs; as though their property were con- 
fiscate, and the door of conciliation slammed in their 


faces. But the new-comers were well content ; more so, 
indeed, than the Afghans themselves. For, at Kabul, 
the prospect of Englishmen quartered in the city was 
viewed with a distaste and distrust that had been con- 
spicuously absent at Herat. 

The reason for this lamentable fact has been justly, if 
severely, stated by Sir Henry Durand : " The first Mission 
to Kabul had established for the British moral character 
an ill reputation, and the conduct of some individuals, 
whom it is needless to particularize, was not calculated to 
remove this unfavourable impression. The consequence 
was that officers searching for residence in the city . . . 
heard their guides execrated for bringing licentious in- 
fidels into the vicinity." 

It is possible and not unnatural to suppose that the 
evil repute of their own women may have increased the 
uneasiness with which Afghan men beheld that unknown 
quantity, the British officer, lodged within their gates. 
He was so lodged, nevertheless; and November the 4th 
was fixed by Macnaghten as the date on which the court, 
the Envoy and army headquarters would march down to 
winter at Jalalabad, leaving a detachment at Kabul under 
Brigadier Robert Sale. 

But even before they left, signs were not wanting that 
the double government theoretically supposed to work 
wonders was already in a fair way to enrage and de- 
moralize the whole nation. The one palpable reason for 
remaining in the country was to hedge in the king a 
little longer with a cheveux de frise of bayonets, and so 
establish him firmly on the throne. Yet the more 
zealously British authority upheld him, the less secure 
became his seat, the more unpopular his rule. 

Silently, inexorably, from the very outset, did every 
move, every incident contribute its quota towards the 


ultimate tragedy. Macnaghten with characteristic 
blindness deemed it possible to treat the Shah as an 
independent monarch, while keeping supreme authority 
in his own hands. Bound by treaty to avoid all internal 
interference, and instant in preaching that same doctrine 
to Pottinger at Herat, yet was his own Afghan policy 
notoriously one of interference with every one and every- 
thing ; of demolishing local rule and local custom in 
a land where both were a part of the national creed. 
He who had wavered where he should have stood 
firm, in respect of the Bala Hissar, now proceeded, 
at the king's desire, to crush where he should have 
conciliated the proud, fiercely independent chiefs of 
the land. 

To this end he set about raising Afghan levies, nomin- 
ally paid by the Shah, and officered by Englishmen. 
These, in time, became janissaries of Shah Shujah ; held 
forts, collected revenues, and, in fine, struck a fatal blow 
not only at the power of the chiefs, but at the popularity 
of the King. As for the levies themselves, though they 
loved the gleam of good rupees, they hated the restraints 
of discipline ; above all, when enforced by infidel 
Feringhis, no matter how gallant their bearing in the 
hour of danger. 

Thus, upon every count, the new system launched 
with such cheerful assurance proved radically unsound ; 
self-doomed, before long, to collapse with a crash and 
bury its authors in the ruins. " A mock King ; a civil 
administration, hated because under foreign dictation ; 
... an Envoy, the real King, ruling by the gleam of 
British bayonets ; . . . a large army raising the price of 
provisions and preying upon a very poor country " 
these were the disastrous results of failing to keep good 
faith with the Afghans and to withdraw the British army 


while the moral effect of its successes had left an impres- 
sion of power not to be lightly set at naught. 

Yet William Macnaghten was "an honourable man." 
Por all his ambition and shallow optimism, he firmiy 
believed in the beneficence of his far-flung schemes for 
Central Asian expansion and reform ; which belief 
though it cannot but disarm blame made his supremacy 
at Kabul the more dangerous for himself and for the 
honour of his country. 

Before leaving for Jalalabad he seriously considered 
the contemplated change at Herat, which, again, he per- 
suaded himself would be a benefit for all concerned. As 
yet he had received no complete report from Todd. But 
seeing that he was fresher to Herat, and less "pre- 
judiced " than Pottinger as regards the Wazir, he could 
be trusted to take a more hopeful view of friendly possi- 
bilities ; besides which he possessed the additional virtue 
of being Macnagh ten's personal friend. Yes; unques- 
tionably Todd was the man. The other's deserts were 
undeniable, and he should be well provided for ; but Todd 
should remain at Herat. 

Thus Macnaghten ; conveniently ignoring the fact that 
Pottinger would soon be arriving at Kabul, and had 
specially begged the Envoy to see him before taking any 
-decisive steps as regards Herat ; ignoring also the definite 
opinion expressed by Lord Auckland in a minute, lately 

"I would not disturb Lieutenant Pottinger at Herat," 
wrote Lord Auckland on August the 20th. "His name 
is attached to the establishment of British influence in 
that city. He has had a most difficult task to execute ; 
and I would suspend all opinion on his instructions . . . 
till I have a report of the result of the Mission of Major 
Todd." Login was suggested as a suitable assistant for 


Pottinger ; and with those two at Herat not over-much 
hampered by red tape England might indeed have held 
her own there through all the stormy days to come. 

But the conjunction of two officers so resolute, practical 
and clear-sighted was not at all to Macnaghten's taste. 
He had enough to contend with in that line, later on, at 
Kandahar. Invariably he fell foul of the strong, straight- 
spoken, uncompromising man ; and, while admitting his 
virtues, personally desired him elsewhere. 

In this instance the fact that he differed from Lord 
Auckland could be tactfully and discreetly subordinated 
to the peculiar circumstances of the case ; and on October 
the 10th before seeing Pottinger or receiving Todd's 
report he wrote definitely to Torrens explaining why he 
deemed it " proper and expedient to relieve Lieutenant 
Pottinger permanently at Herat." He did not wish "in 
any way to disparage so able and zealous an officer, who 
had represented the British Government in troublous 
times " ; but begged leave to point out that " in the strict 
discharge of duty he had inevitably made many powerful 
enemies, whose influence would obstruct the success of 
any negotiations conducted through him." The Envoy 
hoped, in conclusion, that means might be found to 
employ Lieutenant Pottinger elsewhere in the sphere of 
his authority. 

The "many powerful enemies" were a vague and 
visionary crew indeed ; the few that existed being less 
inimical to the man than to the Power he stood for. But 
they looked convincing on paper; and doubtless Mac- 
naghten believed in their existence. He despatched his 
letter accordingly, with a pleasing sense of duty accom- 
plished, and in happy ignorance of the fact that he had 
rendered a better service to Pottinger than to his friend 
D'Arcy Todd. 


POTTINGER as has been said took his own time over 
that southward march* 

Passing through the Hazara country by a new route, 
full of interest for the soul of an explorer, he decided 
to increase still further his knowledge of the country by 
approaching Kabul through the strange and remarkable 
valley of Bamian destined to become verily and indeed 
the " valley of decision " ; the scene of his last and 
proudest achievement in Afghanistan. 

Thus he reached Kabul, early in November, to find 
that the Envoy, with his imposing cortege of royalty and 
troops, had already gone on before. 

But the British element was still sufficiently in evidence 
to mark the drastic changes thrust upon the City of 
Orchards since he had slipped quietly away from her to 
meet the great adventure of his life. Into the Bala 
Hissar where he had walked and talked to Dost 
Mahomed and the Nawab Jubbar Khan Sale's detach- 
ment of troops had brought an air of purposeful activity. 
A palace in the upper citadel ominously christened 
Kulla-i-Feringhi * had now become a rough field 
hospital, and at dawn the lively notes of reveille clashed 
with the muezzin' *s long-drawn call to prayer. 

As yet Pottinger saw in these things no reason for 
regret. Like most British officers in the country, he was 
fain to believe that nothing but good could spring from 
the dominance of right-minded Christian gentlemen over 

1 The European hat. 


a nation of manly but savage barbarians, such as he had 
been contending with for the past two years. Nor was 
this belief, in the abstract, altogether wrong ; but, in 
the concrete, those upright gentlemen were of very 
varied quality and capacity ; while the cause for which 
they honestly laboured was inherently dishonest and 

Pottinger was not tempted, on this occasion, to prolong 
his stay at Kabul. Ignorant of that letter to Lord Auck- 
land, written a month ago, he had much to discuss with 
Macnaghten concerning the future of Herat. Moreover, 
though no snow had yet fallen, it was bitterly cold ; and 
the terrible series of passes between Kabul and Jalalabad 
were ill to traverse in winter as every soldier in Afghan- 
istan had yet to learn at a fearful cost to himself, his 
country, and those who loved him. 

But on November the 29th Eldred Pottinger and his 
modest escort rode unmolested without fear of present 
danger or future catastrophe across ninety miles of hill- 
country, savage and rough-hewn as the men it breeds : 
rode, now through a grim, encompassing silence, that 
preyed upon the mind ; now through the roar and rattle 
of mountain torrents, whose laughter woke demoniac 
responses from cliffs that closed in on either hand, im- 
placable as Fate. Nine marches in all : but it is in the 
first six that the defiles of Afghanistan most fiercely and 
ferociously defy the intruder. Khurd-Kabul, Huft Kotal, 
Tazin, Jagdalak, Gandamak names at that time scarcely 
known even by Anglo-Indians, yet fated, within three 
short years, to become suddenly, tragically familiar ; not 
in the East alone, but wherever three or four Englishmen 
were gathered together on the face of the earth. 

On the evening of his first march Pottinger and his 
party encamped, nine miles out, at the entrance to the 


first and most formidable defile of them all the Khurd- 
Kabul Pass. After the sixth mile all trace of vegetation, 
all sign of life, human or animal, had ceased to be ; and 
now, save for the riot and movement of the river, they 
seemed to have reached the very gate of death. Seen 
by starshine on a night of frost, the mass of converging 
hills loomed sullenly ahead a stupendous ink-blot on 
the greyish-purple of a November sky. Dawn revealed 
them, starkly majestic, twin ranges of basalt, streaked 
with iron-stone and carven by snow and frost into craggy 
precipices, so lofty and close-set that down in the depths 
where men and animals painfully followed the winding 
of the river high noon was little more than gloaming ; 
afternoon, night; and night itself black as the space 
between the worlds. 

On first entering the chill twilight of this great defile, 
Eldred Pottinger had an awed, uplifted sense, as of pass- 
ing into the precincts of a cathedral ; a sense of remote- 
ness from every-day realities. But when slowly, steadily, 
the cliffs drew in closer, as if threatening to wedge the 
life out of them in hideous Afghan fashion, uplifted awe 
gave place to a nameless oppression of spirit ; and that in 
turn to sheer physical discomfort, which banished all else. 
Cold though it had been without, the cold within seemed 
to freeze blood and marrow. Everything was glazed with 
ice. Their breath froze hard on moustaches and beards. 
Icicles adorned the tails of the horses, their traces, manes 
and ears ; and worse than all, the zig-zag course of the 
river involved constant crossing and recrossing, as in 
the Bolan. Twenty-eight times, in that terrible five 
miles, they splashed and scrambled through a torrent 
against which they could scarce hold their own ; and 
always, within two minutes of emerging, the legs of men 
and horses were cased in ice. 


Not until they neared the fourth milestone did the 
hills begin to open out and vouchsafe them a gleam of 
winter sunshine, that at least warmed their hearts if it 
could not thaw their frozen bodies. One mile more, and 
they were free of the Pass ; another, and they had reached 
their camping ground near Khurd-Kabul village, after the 
severest day's march they had experienced since leaving 

Day after day the inhospitable face of the country 
showed little or no change. Even where the valleys 
widened, scarcely a sign of life appeared to soften the 
harsh outstanding features of rock and boulder and jagged 
escarpment, while the loose stones underfoot made pro- 
gress painful as it was slow. For more than forty-two 
miles they rode through an unbroken succession of passes 
and defiles, sunless for the most part and piercing cold. 
But after Khurd-Kabul the rest were as nothing; till 
beyond Katta Sung they entered the gorge of the 
Jagdalak river, ironically named Pari-Dari, 1 and coin- 
pared by those who have seen it to the Valley of Hell, 
near Freiburg. Here the cliffs crowded in close again 
menacing, stupendous. In places they were scarce ten 
feet apart, the torrent zig-zagging between them almost 
at right angles a defile practically impregnable, wherein 
a handful of troops might dispute the progress of an 
army; while an army ambuscaded between its walls of 
rock could be annihilated to a man. 

Happily the Pass was but three miles long ; and once 
through it, the worst of the road lay behind them. 
Another twenty-five miles of rough, but not formidable 
going brought them to a walled village on the table-land 
of Gandamak, where the river, in quieter mood, flowed 
between wheat fields, groups of cypresses and forest trees, 

1 The Fairy Pass. 
B B 


backed by the outer spurs and snow-peaks of the Safed 
Koh : a scene of pure refreshment after the rigours of 
that unforgettable journey. 

Next morning, by an easy descent of five miles or so, 
they dropped into the valley of Nimlah, and beheld, afar 
off, its renowned garden of plane and cypress trees ; its 
raised planks of masonry for encampment, where the 
tallest cypresses stood sentinel, as if round an Italian 
shrine. But the garden was already occupied in force. 
Tents large and small, tethered horses and cattle, all the 
miscellaneous litter of a moving city, proclaimed that 
they had overtaken the Court upon its southward march. 
Nearer approach revealed the high crimson kandts that 
enclosed the sacred person of majesty, and Pottinger's 
Heratis, riding ahead, drew rein, gesticulating eagerly. 

"Shahzada Sahib! " they cried. "May the length of 
his shadow never diminish ! Great is our kismet. For 
where the King rests his head, there will be food in 
plenty and of the best! " 

Nor were they mistaken. Pottinger certainly enjoyed 
food of the best in Macnagh ten's well-appointed tent, 
where he dined with the Envoy and his staff, and sat 
talking late into the night. 

If he had felt awkward at Kabul in his Afghan dress, 
he felt still more so, seated among men in immaculate 
coats and shirts at a civilized dinner-table, such as he 
had not seen for nearly three years. Now, too, for the 
first time, he met, face to face, the man he had so long 
Jknown on paper. 

Without, as within, the two made a striking contrast, 
.apart from any accident of dress. The squarely-built 
subaltern, with the resolute mouth, the unadorned direct- 
ness and sincerity of speech, was of another type 
.altogether from the polished scholarly diplomat, who 


spoke fluently in his own language and half-a-dozen 
others, and whose too-fertile imagination saw men and 
things as he would have them rather than as they were. 
To the practised observer, Macnaghten's face proclaimed 
the man. As the fine forehead and eyebrows were dis- 
counted by the arch of the eye, .the insignificant mouth 
and non-committal chin ; so were the man's undoubted 
intellect, imagination and courage discounted by lack of 
judgment, resolution and that inner sincerity which 
saves its possessor from the pitfalls of self-deception. 

But on that first night of meeting there was much of 
general interest to tell ; much to hear ; and business was 
postponed to a more seasonable moment. 

Next morning while it was transacting in Mac- 
naghten's office tent George Lawrence wrote to Honoria, 
Henry's wife, of the interesting new arrival and of all 
he had to tell. " He seems an active, intelligent fellow, 
but not very bright," was the verdict of George, the 
perennially cheerful ; though it may be doubted whether 
his own brightness would have been proof against two 
years of Herat and Yar Mahomed Khan. " He dresses 
entirely as an Afghan ; and hasn't a morsel of European 
clothing, except three shirts, made for him with great 
difficulty by an old lady at Herat ! Such beauties they 
are ! He is going to join the Governor-General's camp 
to confer with his Lordship on Persian affairs. Login 
has given him a letter to Henry; so you may see him 
when he passes through Ferozepore." 

Thus was John Login the means of bringing about a 
meeting not soon forgotten by either man ; since each 
was quick to perceive in the other the same eternal 
elements that make for greatness. 

But in the meantime, Pottinger had a Macnaghten to 
confer with before passing on to the fountain-head of 

B B 2 


authority ; a Macnaghten perturbed, not a little, by those 
October letters from Todd. That, in the face of a treaty 
signed and sealed, he should have to record fresh in- 
trigues with Persia and see no alternative for England 
but to attack or be attacked ! It was intolerable and 
not to be endured ! 

But if such barefaced Afghanism was news to Mac- 
naghten, it was none to Pottinger. 

" The signing and sealing of a dozen treaties would not 
change the Ethiopian's skin," he remarked drily. "It is 
all of a piece with the rest." 

"Then, upon my soul! " cried the distracted envoy, 
" I've a good mind to break off the treaty, here and now ; 
send an army to Herat and add it to the Kabul crown. 
In no other way shall we ever secure his Majesty on the 

This from the man who had waxed eloquent on the 
imperative need for "preserving the integrity of Herat." 

Pottinger smiled thoughtfully. " If that had been 
done earlier, the State might have been saved a consider- 
able sum of money." 

" Yes yes. No doubt." Macnaghten seemed to 
resent the implication. " But it is not too late yet. You 
will have a favourable opportunity of broaching the 
matter when you join the Governor-General. He will, 
I fancy, wish to detain you for a time at Calcutta, so that 
you may furnish Government with a memoir of your 
travels and a clearer statement of expenditure than we 
have received as yet." 

Pottinger inclined his head and rose to depart. " In 
the circumstances I could do no better at the time," said 
he, " but I am most anxious to give his Lordship every 
facility for testing the accuracy of my accounts." 

So they parted, for the time being, in all friendly 


politeness, though it was plain, to Pottinger at least, 
that no confidential relation would ever be possible 
between them. He and his people moved on with the 
Court to Jalalabad, " Abode of Splendour " ; a most 
miserable, mud-built town in a valley of sand and stones ; 
its bastions and walls so ruinous that through the breaches 
cattle were driven out to graze ; its ten brass guns 
mounted on useless carriages ; its royal residence, a 

Here Pottinger parted company, not unwillingly, with 
the uncomfortable formalities of an oriental court in 
motion. Before leaving, it was agreed that beyond the 
Khyber he would no longer need the double escort of 
Sepoys and Heratis which had accompanied him through- 
out. This was ill news for the latter. If they might no 
longer serve the Sahib, who had taught them to know 
the meaning of justice, they begged that, at least, they 
might not be dismissed from British service ; and might, 
also, as a mark of great favour, be allowed to keep the 
horses given them at Herat. Needless to say their 
requests were granted. No man who had done Pottinger 
a service, even of the slightest, was ever forgotten or 
overlooked by him ; and this his faithful remnant many 
of whom had been stripped and beaten for their devotion 
were assured that they need have no fear. Six of them, 
under Allah Dad Khan, he gained leave to take on with 
him down country. For the others, he arranged with 
Macnaghten that they should be retained as Irregular 
Horse, and be left, in passing, with Captain Mackeson 
at Fort Jamrud. 

Once beyond Peshawar, with Afghanistan behind him 
and the unknown Punjab before, his reduced party 
marched steadily southward, without fear of let or loss ; 
halting at this or that point, as inclination prompted, 


in the pleasant, deliberate fashion of a day untroubled 
by the tyranny of speed. 

Lahore, Ferozepore, Kurnal, Delhi, Agra fresh 
revelations, all, to the Bombay subaltern, and welcome 
additions to his store of geographical knowledge. At 
Ferozepore he spent a few days with Login's friend 
Henry Lawrence and his wife ardent w r edded lovers, 
happy in the possession of their first son : at Kurnal, 
another few days with Tom Pottinger mightily pleased 
at his promotion to acting-adjutant, and zealously study- 
ing the language in view of further honours : and always 
there was the abiding interest in his Herati boys, the 
memoir of his recent Hazara journey and the companion- 
ship of his faithful friend Hakeem Mahomed Hussain. 
The good man had refused the offer of a hundred rupees 
a month from Todd, choosing rather to bestow his services 
on " the saviour of Herat " and accompany him, as Mirza, 
to Calcutta that wonderland of learning, where Pot- 
tinger promised he would gain leave for him to attend all 
public lectures on medicine or surgery, and study at first- 
hand the management of British hospitals. Thus the 
foundation laid by Conolly Sahib would be completed 
by his honourable successor, whom Allah would assuredly 
requite with health and many honours and length of 
days. But the requitals of Allah, though they fail 
not, are rarely recognizable as such by the children of 

Not until New Year's Day was passed, and they were 
nearing Gwalior, did they hear any word of the Governor- 
General, who was at that time marching through the 
plains of central India on his winter tour of inspection 
and of diplomatic intercourse with friendly chiefs. 

But at Gwalior men told them : " Great is your good 
fortune. The Burra Ldt Sahib himself is encamped 


here." Nor was it long before their eyes, and their 
nostrils also, confirmed the news. 

For outside the high walls of crimson cloth, that en- 
compassed the elect, were bell-tents of native servants 
and followers innumerable ; camp-fires of dung-cakes and 
wood; lines of tethered horses, mules, bullocks, camels 
and elephants. Within was a city of tents sleeping- 
tents, mess-tents, cooking-tents and office-tents : officers 
in uniform ; servants of all grades superciliously inclined 
towards strangers and pilgrims ; chuprassis in scarlet and 
gold, more supercilious still. And in the midst, enclosed 
by a lesser crimson wall, the sanctum of his Lordship 
the Governor-General, with his sisters, Fanny and Emily 
Eden ; lively, talented women who in part for love of 
their brother and in part for love of a unique experience 
cheerfully endured, each winter, the discomforts in- 
separable from a moving camp, no matter how luxuriously 
appointed and laid out. 

To this focal point in the great circle Eldred Pottinger 
made his way ; eyed, as he went, with passing curiosity 
by his own countrymen, who took him for some Afghan 
dignitary come to confer with his Lordship on the supreme 
subject of the hour. Inside the crimson Jcanats three 
large private tents, a dining-tent and magnificent durbar 
tent were set so as to form a courtyard, with covered 
passages to protect the ladies from cold and damp. 

Conducted to Lord Auckland's tent, Pottinger was 
received as warmly as if he had been a personal friend. 
He found his Lordship elated at the news that the fortress 
of Khelat had been carried by Wiltshire " quite in the 
Ghazni manner " ; though stout old Mahrab Khan had 
fought like a lion to the last and died, sword in hand, 
with a bullet through his heart. Of Macnaghten and 
his doings he spoke with more reserve. There had been 


too much insistence on troops lately to suit the man who 
had been lured from the path of peace and prudence 
against his better judgment ; and he was in no mind to 
sanction fresh hostilities in the direction of Herat. He 
had already written his mind to Sir William on that 
score ; and now chiefly desired a full account of Pottinger 's 
own actions; a desire Pottinger was neither willing nor 
able to fulfil. But, himself excluded, he found much to 
say of Herat, and of the good work started there by the 
officers of the Mission. 

The approach of the dinner hour found the incon- 
gruous pair still deep in talk. 

"You will join us to-night, of course," said his Lord- 
ship graciously, and for a second Pottinger was smitten 
dumb. Here was an honour he neither dreamed of nor 
desired; and although the invitation was a command, 
he made a clumsy attempt to excuse himself on the score 
of possessing no suitable clothes. 

Lord Auckland airily dismissed the difficulty. His 
native dress would but add to the interest of his presence 
in their midst : and Pottinger must needs bow to the 

It was already late ; and the great man, full of his own 
thoughts, hurried away with never a word to any one of 
his unexpected guests. 

Pottinger, having no toilet to delay him, entered the 
great dining-tent in good time, privately cursing his 

Half-a-dozen officers in mess uniform stood together 
round the stove. They glanced up at his entrance ; saw 
a fair-skinned native, unknown to any of them ; raised 
their eyebrows in polite amazement and went on talking. 
They supposed he must have come in by accident, and 
discovering his mistake, would go quietly out. 


But he did nothing of the sort. Though uniformed 
backs were turned upon him, he stood his ground, lean- 
ing against a tent-pole, outwardly composed, inwardly 
wishing the ground would open and receive him before 
Lord Auckland arrived. 

The officers round the stove began to whisper among 
themselves ; not too quietly, for none imagined he could 

"Deuced impertinent fellow," said one. "Wants to 
catch his Excellency, no doubt, about some favour that 
has been refused." 

" Lord Auckland brings this sort of thing on him- 
self," said another. "Treats any black devil as if he 
were one of Us. We can't have this fellow in here when 
the ladies come. Some one ought to turn him out." 

This last seemed the general opinion. But although 
several others came in, and glanced inquiringly at the 
man without a wedding garment, the necessary " some 
one " did not appear to be forthcoming. 

Unmistakable voices outside made the officers near the 
stove start guiltily, and exchange glances of dismay. 

Lord Auckland entered, with the Honourable Emily 
Eden in elaborate flounces and costly Kashmir shawl 
leaning upon his arm. Then did dismay give place to 
dumb surprise. For the " native " leaning against the 
tent-pole straightened himself and smiled. Lord Auck- 
land beamed on him as on a friend, came forward briskly, 
and turning to his sister, presented the intruder with a 
gracious wave of his hand. 

"My dear," said he, "we are greatly honoured this 
evening. Let me introduce you to the hero of Herat ! " 

Lady Emily swept a curtsey. Pottinger, tingling to 
the roots of his hair, bowed in response. At once the 
whole tent was in commotion. The officers of the staff 


pressed eagerly forward ; and, in defiance of etiquette, the 
whole assembly broke out into disjointed cheers. 

It was a proud, yet acutely uncomfortable moment for 
a modest man. Eldred Pottinger had felt far less per- 
turbed in the clutches of Yakub Beg and in the breaches 
of Herat, than upon that evening of January when he sat 
down to dinner between the Honourable Emily Eden and 
his Excellency the Governor-General of India. 


THE news of victory, that had so elated Lord Auck- 
land, was true indeed. 

Justly or unjustly, Khelat had been stormed and 
carried. Wiltshire had won laurels due to Nott ; and 
Mehrab Khan who, five years earlier, had saved a fleeing 
and defeated Shah Shujah from the wrath of his enemies 
had paid for that act of hospitality with his life. After 
his death it was found that he had been surrounded by 
traitors who had secretly frustrated his attempts at 
negotiation. But the harm was done ; and none appeared 
to dream of reparation. The Khan's son became a home- 
less fugitive; a more pliable instrument filled his place; 
and yet another seed of hatred to Shah Shujah and his 
allies was sown in the hearts of a people who neither 
forget or forgive. 

As to the British officers, probably few among them 
had enough knowledge of details to be troubled with 
doubts concerning the justice of these things. Certainly 
none gave a thought to the secondary act of injustice 
involved ; to the fine old soldier, eating his heart out at 
Quetta, hoping against hope for the crumb of consolation 
flung to him by Keane, that, at any moment, he might 
be ordered to advance on Khelat. Instead, his worst 
fears had been realized ; and insult added to injury by 
an intimation that he (Nott) was to hold himself and his 
troops in readiness to act under Willshire's orders should 
the need arise. To have missed Ghazni was cruel enough ; 
but here was an arrow tipped with the poison of personal 



malice, and the wound it inflicted festered the more. But 
months of quiet, healthy life at Quetta had calmed his 
excitable temper; and he merely wrote that any request 
for aid would be complied with ; but, conceiving himself 
senior to local Major-General Wiltshire, he could neither 
serve under that officer nor obey orders issued by him. 
In his eyes this firm, yet temperate protest, seemed a 
duty not merely to himself, but to that ill-used Indian 
army, whose honour was dearer to him than his own. 
Weary of abstract protests, he hoped thus to bring the 
whole question to an issue. But since the death of his 
wife it was as if an evil fate pursued him. No hope, 
however reasonable, was fulfilled. 

Sir John Keane forwarded the protest to Lord Auck- 
land, who in due course notified his high displeasure, 
-and called upon Major-General Nott either to obey 
Government orders, in respect of local Major-Generals, 
or resign his command. 

It needed but this to break a spirit already subdued by 
personal sorrow. Nott tendered his submission on paper, 
merely regretting that his position had not been made 
clear to him from the first. But, in his heart, he resolved 
to throw up the command. He sent word to his girls; 
and had even begun to pack up his belongings when lo ! 
a blue envelope from the Auditor-General, and within it 
an order to refund the sum of nine thousand rupees, which 
he had drawn as allowance for commanding the first 
division of the Bengal army. 

Stunned for the moment, his wrath flamed up the more 
fiercely at thought of the loss and mortification involved. 
But, for the sake of his daughters, he could and did 
submit to all endure all. 

To them alone he poured forth the bitterness and 
anger that consumed him. "I told you that in the nine- 


teenth century they would not dare to hang me," he 
wrote after breaking the news. " But they are not 
ashamed to rob me. I am sorry for this great loss on 
your account. Did it only touch myself, I should laugh 
in scorn. To refund this large sum, the Pay Department 
coolly propose to take possession of my six months batta 
donation, and to deduct 1500 rupees a month from my 
pay bill, leaving me 500 rupees to wend my way with. 
This is, I must confess, a very disagreeable affair. You 
will perceive that economy will be necessary. I will live 
almost upon the wind to pay this very honourable and 
just debt ! They have done their worst ; but my bones will 
not rest a bit the sooner in the tomb for their rascally 
conduct. If I can possibly arrange money matters, I will 
still quit this, and march for Calcutta. Why should I 
remain here? I never will, if I can possibly avoid it, 
serve under a Fane General, if fifty orders were to come 
from England ! " 

By the time matters had reached this pass he had left 
Quetta, and was installed at Kandahar in command of 
four native regiments, a few troops of cavalry and sixteen 
guns. November found him fairly settled in for the 
winter, writing, as usual, fully and regularly to one or 
other of his beloved girls. " Here I am, in a house for 
the first time during the last thirteen months. It is an 
upper-roomed one, and belongs to his Majesty. My 
friend, Sir J. Keane, had sent an order from Kabul 
directing this house to be appropriated for the commis- 
sariat treasury; I suspect, merely to prevent my getting 
it ; however, the house is in the citadel, and as I com- 
mand the garrison, I declared to the functionaries that I 
would have it, in spite of Sir J. Keane's order. I accord- 
ingly ordered it to be vacated ; and I am now writing to 
you from a snug corner room upstairs. . . . To-day we 


have had another fall of snow. I have had all my doors 
shut, and am now writing in a small room, with a large 
fire close to my left hand, and a small glass door (which 
I had made on arrival) on my right; and I fancy myself 
very snug. 

4 * For the last eight days I have been three or four 
hours each day on horseback, galloping in every direction, 
always at full speed, wrapped up in my large military 
cloak. I can assure you it is no joke for the orderly 
troopers who follow me in my rambles. . . . This is 
really a much finer climate than England. Yesterday I 
had four regiments out at exercise; and although I gal- 
loped for upwards of two hours, I still remained cold." 

This simple, strenuous fashion of life thoroughly suited 
his taste; only the abiding sense of injustice, in all 
quarters, rankled within. But happily, for once, he was 
permitted to taste the sweets of reparation. For in April 
came another Government letter, cancelling the un- 
generous order, and crediting him with the sum already 
deducted four thousand rupees. This he thankfully set 
aside as a nest-egg for his " children," after spending a 
small amount on additional comforts in view of the 
approaching hot weather. Glass doors and windows were 
added to his house; and a Bengal punkah, the first 
ever seen at Kandahar, hung up in his largest room. 
But, apart from these luxuries, the old man continued 
to live as hardly and simply as any subaltern in his 

On the whole that winter of '39-40 was a peaceful and 
pleasant one for William Nott. He enjoyed the climate, 
admired the people and found plenty of congenial occupa- 
tion to hand in reviving and reorganizing the army of 
Kandahar. Afghans in the surrounding villages soon 
came to know and better still to welcome the pic- 


turesque figure on the bay horse, which soon became a 
characteristic feature of the countryside. Virile and 
vigorous in no usual degree, Nott was the very man to 
command their admiration ; the very man whose presence 
at headquarters might have gone far to mitigate the 
universal hatred of British occupation. But unhappily 
for both races, petty prejudice, and Macnaghten's dread 
of his stubborn independence, kept him more or less in 
the background from first to last. 

So the winter passed quietly at Kandahar ; imposingly 
at Jalalabad, where the Shah indulged to the full his 
passion for the pomps and vanities of kingship ; and at 
Kabul cheerfully enough, in spite of disturbing rumours 
as to the movements of the Amir, the increasing arrogance 
of Yar Mahomed and the advance of Russian battalions ; 
a topic of unfailing interest, this last. 

The severity of winter in Afghanistan makes it a time 
of enforced quiet even for so restless and quarrelsome a 
people. Predatory expeditions are rare. No caravans 
come and go, as in summer, dispensing provisions and 
news. But the handful of British officers at Kabul, 
thrown upon their own resources, were by no means at' 
a loss for amusement. Like Nott, they made many 
individual friends among the Afghans. But his intimacy 
was rather with the people; theirs with the chiefs, who 
invited them freely to their town houses and country 
castles ; and were no less freely entertained in return. 
At the weekly guest nights of the 13th and 35th they 
enjoyed themselves to the top of their bent ; cracking 
rough jokes with the officers ; eating and drinking all that 
came their way as indiscriminately as though there were 
no " prohibitive clauses " in the Koran or elsewhere. 
The British officers, in their turn, found the shooting of 
quail and snipe at Afghan country castles more congenial 


than musical evenings of the type sampled by Outram 
and his friends. 

With the waning of summer, cricket and horse-racing 
had been exchanged for football, hockey and quoits. 
High stakes were wagered over fighting cocks and rams, 
and feats of wrestling, wherein the Afghans to their 
frank surprise found themselves overthrown again and 
again by their new friends. None the less it took time 
to convince them that men who hailed from the plains of 
Hindostan could be other than effeminate folk, unused to 
the rigours of snow and ice, which they reckoned, next 
to warfare, the most potent makers of men. Great, then, 
was their wonder when they beheld these versatile 
Feringhis rejoicing in the severe frost of December ; and 
praying for snow before Christmas to remind them of 

And there was yet greater wonder in store. On a 
crisp, cloudless day of December they took a party of 
Englishmen to the lake that lies five miles beyond Kabul. 
Here, by now, the ice was strong enough for running, 
sliding and other winter sports, wherein they excelled. 
The Feringhis, they were convinced, could not beat 
them on this, their own ground. And at first it seemed 
that they were right. The English officers many of 
whom had not set foot on ice for ten or twelve years 
could not run upon the slippery surface like their light- 
footed friends ; and their attempts at sliding were so 
ungainly that the Afghans shouted aloud in good- 
humoured derision. 

" Aha ! Spake we not the truth ? " cried one. " You 
are no true men of the North, if you cannot run upon 

The subalterns joined in the laugh against them- 
selves ; but protested that, given time for practice, they 


would run upon ice with the swiftest Afghan of them 

Then they took counsel together how their national 
supremacy might be asserted and their boast made good. 
In a city so full of skilled artificers, it surely must be 
possible to find one who could make skates from a rough 
model. It was possible ; and the needful model was 
achieved by Sinclair, of the 18th, a notable man of his 
hands. Old iron, smelted and hardened, served for blades ; 
and the rest was simple enough. For the skate of 1839 
was a very primitive affair of wood and iron and straps. 

So the artificers worked, and the subalterns rejoiced 
strictly in private. At length, upon the appointed 
day, they announced a forthcoming tamasha on the lake 
that should prove them true men of the North, and cause 
the Afghans to open their eyes and their mouths wider 
than ever before. Nor were they disappointed of their 

It was a proud moment when they set out, skates 
hanging over their shoulders, as in the days of boyhood ; 
prouder still when they strapped them on under the eyes 
of a curious crowd. Then, with one accord, they rose 
up ; staggered, swayed and after the first ungainly 
lunges, dashed forward in gallant style ; backed, wheeled, 
cut threes and eights with shouts of exultation, heartily 
echoed by the gazers on the shore. Amid a chorus of 
" Wah wahs," " Inshallahs " and much solemn wag- 
ging of beards, the Afghans declared themselves non- 
plussed by this incredible magic of running upon ice 
with knives. 

" Now we have proof that you are not as the infidel 

Hindus," cried he who had derided on that earlier day. 

"By the Prophet's beard you are men indeed; born and 

bred like ourselves, in a country where the changing 



seasons give equal vigour to body and mind. Great 
would have been our kismet, and your own, had you come 
among us as friends, not as enemies. One by one, you 
are fine fellows enough. But as a nation we hate you 
from the heart ; because we also are men, like yourselves, 
loving liberty better than life." 

It was an honest statement of fact; and it put the 
whole truth in a nutshell. Individually, many English- 
men in Afghanistan commanded liking and even admira- 
tion. As a body they could not be otherwise than 
hateful to men who grew daily more impatient of a 
foreign yoke and of a King who cared for nothing save 
their genuflexions and their money, which last was dear 
to them as liberty itself. 

But during that first sociable winter, with its friendly 
rivalry in hospitality and sport, it was impossible for 
British officers, ignorant of the country, to realize that, 
even then, they were treading on concealed fire ; fire that 
could not fail to burn the more fiercely for its very 
repression, till it demolished the surface crust of friend- 
ship and broke up the ground under their feet. 


BUT if the officers at Kabul were ignorant of the 
country and its people, Sir Alexander Burnes was not. 
Disappointed of the speedy promotion he looked for, and 
bitterly discontented with his present anomalous position, 
he watched with half cynical amusement the lively 
amenities between city and Bala Hissar. Himself more 
student than sportsman, he seldom took an active part 
in them ; yet his hospitality and lively humour made him 
a general favourite ; for he kept open house, and enter- 
tained his guests in a style commensurate with a salary 
of 2500 rupees a month. There was, indeed, little else 
for him to do. "Reading and imprisoning rupees," he 
wrote to Lord, "are now my engagements;" and he 
had carried a varied assortment of books with him to the 
ends of the earth. Tacitus, Horace, Guizot, lives of 
Sidney Smith and Warren Hastings each in turn served 
as anodyne to a man hungering for active, responsible 
work ; and diverted his mind from brooding on the 
unfulfilled promise that Macnaghten's early return to 
India should leave him paramount virtual ruler of 

And in the intervals of reading, his pen was unceas- 
ingly occupied, either with the inevitable journal of the 
period, or with discursive letters to relations and friends : 
for next to hearing his own voice, Burnes loved nothing 
better than airing himself on paper. Condemned as he 
was to the role of looker-on, he undoubtedly saw more 
of the game than Macnaghten ; but, his observations and 
cc 2 3 8 7 


opinions being apparently superfluous, he bestowed them 
mainly on his bosom friend and fellow-political, Doctor 
Percival Lord ; the Hakeem Sahib who ran I 

Upon the exposure of his credulity, Lord had set out 
again for Bamian ; and was there established with his 
small detachment, which had been far better occupied 
in drilling and parading at Kabul, than in lending military 
significance to the vagaries of a political " Fidgety Phil." 
Aptly described as "ingenious in alarm," he spent most 
of the winter in discovering pretexts for petty, yet 
aggressive action ; for " frustrating embryo insurrec- 
tions," and generally making the name of Feringhi 
detested by tribes who would otherwise have been neutral, 
if not over-friendly, toward Shah Shujah and the British 
Raj. But in Lord's eyes the game of Central Asian 
politics was a means to one end only personal distinc- 
tion; and to sit quiet was to be overlooked. Vain as he 
was ambitious, he little guessed that his high-sounding 
dispatches were ridiculed by Keane and bemoaned by 
Lord Auckland, who dreaded the costliness of fresh 
entanglements beyond the Hindu Khush. But Lord 
went on his way rejoicing ; though he again like Burnes 
and Macnaghten, in '38, was enthusiastically digging 
his own grave. 

Far less astute than Burnes, Lord was fully his equal 
in ambition, restlessness and lack of judgment. Indeed, 
it seems more than probable that the irresponsibility of 
those earliest Afghan politicals, Burnes, Lord and Leech 
to say nothing of Macnaghten 's tragic example went 
far to induce the sweeping denunciations which, for a 
time, it became the fashion to hurl at a remarkably able, 
upright and courageous body of men. The first three 
had been closely associated in the original Kabul Mission, 
and had remained firm friends. So it happened that 


when, in the winter of his discontent, Burnes was moved 
to discursiveness, he bestowed it all upon the man 
who could be trusted to applaud his personal point of 

Fragments from these voluminous letters, written be- 
tween November and March, give a lively picture of men 
and events, coloured always with the writer's egotism, 
shrewdness and humour. Russia, the supreme topic of 
that winter, naturally stands first. Her advance of 
troops from Orenburg to Khiva was justifiable enough ; 
provided the troops went no farther. The Khan of 
Khiva had been systematically harassing her merchants ; 
interrupting intercourse, and carrying off her subjects 
into slavery; and, peaceful remonstrance having failed, 
she now put forth the armed protest of the stronger 
power. It seems probable that if Great Britain had not 
waxed zealous over Shah Shujah's claims, Russian sub- 
jects might have languished in captivity unheeded ; but 
even as a strategical counter-move, no honest man in 
the face of Macnaghten's Afghan policy could denounce 
it as inexpedient or unjust. None the less, among the 
more forward politicals, it could not fail to create 
excitement amounting to alarm. 

But by January, Burnes' letters were concerned with 
troubles nearer home. 

"How can I say things go wrong? My dear Lord 
sheets are writ in praise of the Shah's contingent. Yet 
God is my judge I tremble every time it is employed, 
that it will compromise its officers. The Shah can never 
be left without a British army ; for his own will never be 
fit for anything. . . . For myself, imprisoning rupees 
and reading are now my engagements ; and I have begun 
this year with a resolution of making no more suggestions 
and of only speaking when spoken to. I do not say this 


in ill humour quite the reverse. A screw from Machia- 
velli supports me. * A man who, instead of acting for 
the best, acts as he ought, seeks rather his ruin than 
his preservation. . . .' 

" Lord Auckland took a step, in sending an army into 
this country, contrary to his own judgment, and he cares 
not a sixpence what comes of his policy, so he gets out 
of it. All the dispatches plainly prove this ; and Mac- 
naghten now begins to see his own false position ; sug- 
gests remedies; and finds himself, for the first time, 
snubbed by the very Governor-General whose letters have 
been hitherto a fulsome tissue of praise. The Envoy sees 
that Russia is coming on ; that Herat is not what it ought 
to have been ours ; and his dawning experience tells 
him that, if not for us, it is against us. What says Lord 
Auckland ? * I disagree with you. Yar Mahomed is to 
be conciliated. I do not credit Russia's advance on 
us* ... I wonder,' adds his Lordship, ' that you should 
countenance attacks on Herat contrary to treaty ' (who 
made that treaty? Macnaghten !) ; * that you should 
seek for more troops in Afghanistan. It is your duty to 
rid Afghanistan of troops.' All very fine, but mark the 
result calamity, loss of influence, and with it loss of 

" In these important times, what occupies the King and 
this Envoy? The cellars of his Majesty's palace have 
been used as powder-magazines to prevent a mosque being 
* desecrated.' They would have been put in the citadel; 
but his Majesty objected, as they overlooked his harem ! 
This objection dire necessity has removed, and to the 
citadel they have gone. See what is said of Colonel 
Dennie's occupying, not the palace, but a house outside, 
held formerly by sweepers and Hindoos ! From this, in 
the midst of winter, he has been ejected ; but he declares, 


before God, that it shall be the Governor-General alone 
who turns him out. These are the occupations of the 
King and Envoy ! 

"What, my dear Lord, do I mean by all this? Ex 
uno disce omnes. Be silent, pocket your pay, do nothing 
but what you are ordered, and you will give high satis- 
faction. They will sacrifice you and me, or any one, 
without caring a straw. This does not originate from 
vice, I believe, but from ignorance. An expose of our 
policy from the day we were bound hand and foot at 
Lahore, till Shah Shujah threatened to resign because 
the cellars of his palace were occupied by munitions of 
war, when Russia was on the Oxus, would make a book 
which future diplomatists could never, in blunder, sur- 
pass. But why should it be otherwise ? The chief priest, 
ere he started, asked if Khiva were on the Indus. Bah ! 
I blame the Governor-General for little ; if he is a timid 
man, he is a good man. Wade hoodwinked him about 
Kabul when I was here; another now hoodwinks him. 
The one cost us two millions, the other will cost us 
ten. His Lordship has just written to me to give him 
my say on public matters. Am I a fool? He does 
not want truth ; he wants support ; and when I can 
give it I shall do so loudly; when I cannot, I shall be 

" Feb. 18. The Envoy is, or pretends to be, greatly 
annoyed at my being left out of the list of the honoured. 
I am not in the least surprised. Every month brings 
with it proofs of Lord A.'s hostility or dislike. Serves 
me right. I ought never to have come here, or allowed 
myself to be pleased with fair though false words. . . . 
I bide my time, and I may be set down as highly pre- 
sumptuous ; but if I live, I expect to be a G.C.B. instead 
of a C.B. 


" March 4. There is no two days' fixity of purpose 
here no plan of a future policy. The bit-by-bit 
system prevails. Nothing comprehensive is looked to ; 
the details of the day suffice to fill it up, and the work 
done is not measured by its importance, but by being 
work. I for one begin to think Wade will be the luckiest 
of us all to be away from the break-down; for, unless a 
new leaf is turned over, break down we shall." 

So early did the dread Inevitable hovering over 
Afghanistan like a bird of prey cast its shadow upon 
those who were not blinded to reality by their own con- 
ceits and desires. In September, Keane, in March, 
Burnes struck the same ominous note of prophecy; and 
in April 1840, Nott replied to Cotton's request for his 
opinion on the situation in a more temperate, though 
scarcely a more hopeful strain. 

" You must be a better judge than I am of the feel- 
ings of the Afghans ; but, in the event of any disturbance, 
I believe they would almost to a man join the Chief Dost 
Mahomed Khan. . . . Our force on this side of the Indus 
is not sufficient for a further advance ; indeed, unless you 
get large reinforcements, you will find some difficulty in 
holding your ground at Kabul and in the Khyber 

But from Sir William Macnaghten, as yet, no word of 
prevision; though, from October to April, he had been 
beset with discouraging revelations. 

Even before Keane left the country he had witnessed 
the first-fruits of that fatal double government in a 
revolt of the Khyber tribes. The Shah whom aforetime 
they had concealed and protected had promised them, 
unknown to Macnaghten, a higher subsidy than the 
Envoy felt justified in paying; and Afridi retaliation 
took the immemorial form of blocking up their passes, 


attacking scattered detachments and generally making 
themselves as unpleasant as adepts in guerrilla warfare 
know how to do. Captain Mackeson, the Peshawur 
political, reasoned with them placably ; Colonel Wheeler 
from Jalalabad reasoned more forcibly; with small result. 
Then, in December, Macnaghten with a small cortege 
marched down to Peshawur to meet the longed-for convoy 
of wives and children ; and the formidable nature of 
Afridi denies, once realized, proved a more potent argu- 
ment than their former services or the word of a king. 
A compromise was arrived at and good conduct vouched 
for till next time. 

But the Afridi outbreak was a mere drop in the ocean 
of his difficulties ; a preliminary note of warning, which 
he was not the man to heed. Before winter was well over 
the same dread note echoed throughout the kingdom 
east and west ; south and north. In whichever direction 
he turned his hopeful gaze, something or other was going 

The Durani chiefs in the region of Kandahar no longer 
professed a loyalty that would obviously avail them 
nothing. The Ghilzais around Ghazni and Jalalabad, 
though crushed for the moment, were very far from sub- 
dued. Fighters in the grain, jealous of their unbroken 
independence, and deeply mistrustful of the new order, 
they awaited only the melting of snow and ice to make 
their hostility more practically felt. In Mehrab Khan's 
country, the Beluchis were already up in arms against 
the weak tool Macnaghten had enthroned in his stead. 
The Sikhs regardless of treaty and subsidy were har- 
bouring rebel Ghilzai chiefs, and openly intriguing with 
the Barakzais. At Herat as events shall show Yar 
Mahomed was rising each month to more flagrant heights 
of insolence and daring ; and from Bokhara came word of 


Stoddart's second imprisonment, aggravated by ill-treat- 

This last so wrought upon the kindly-hearted Envoy, 
that he promptly made arrangements for that northward 
Mission, which failed to free Stoddart and sent Arthur 
Conolly to his death. 

But from Bokhara came also the one gleam that lighted 
the gloom of Macnaghten's political horizon. 

For it happened that Dost Mahomed, intending to 
seek asylum in Persia, had been lured by friendly promises 
of help to turn aside and visit the lesser chief. With 
him went his sons Akbar and Afzul Khan ; the latter 
having been forgiven for his attack of nerves at sight 
of the Union Jack flying over Ghazni. Wives, daughters, 
younger sons, relations and slaves a motley crowd of 
two hundred and fifty souls had been left with that 
most astute of men, the Nawab Jubbar Khan, in the 
hospitable country of Kulam, east of the Hindu Kush. 
In December the Dost had entered Bokhara, where he 
was received with all courtesy and distinction* His 
party was fed from the royal table ; intermarriages 
were arranged that should clinch the bonds of union. 
Finally it was proposed that the deserted two hundred 
and fifty, with all the family jewels and treasure, should 
be brought up from Kulam ; and that the Dost being 
short of money should dismiss all his followers save a 
personal escort of two hundred horse. These last plans 
did not find favour in his eyes ; but, being Afghan to 
the core, he feigned agreement ; and, by the same Kasid, 
wrote secretly to Jubbar Khan bidding him kill every 
man, woman and child, rather than let them out of his 
safe keeping. 

Time passed ; and passing, brought no sign of the 
Afghan zenana and treasure. Then the Bokhara chief 


furious at being foiled of his purpose, and jealous of 
the Dost's popularity with his own people flung father 
and sons into prison, bidding them there remain till the 
rest of their family came to join them. 

Here was news to lift the heart of Shah Shu j ah and 
enable Macnaghten to breathe more freely. 

In his opinion it were common prudence to secure the 
two hundred and fifty, as hostages; common hospitality 
to proffer them support and "honourable asylum," pro- 
vided they would live where they were told. But Shah 
Shujah, stolid, selfish and remorseless, refused to con- 
tribute a rupee for their benefit. Often though he had 
been a fugitive, dependent on the generosity of others, 
he had no bowels of compassion for those in a like case : 
nor was the subtle Nawab much readier to accept Feringhi 
overtures than those of Bokhara. Permitted by the Wali 
of Kulam to levy dues on passing kafilas for the support 
of his huge family, he held his ground in that country 
for months to come. 

May found Macnaghten, with all his royal parapher- 
nalia, back at Kabul ; a glorified Kabul, clad in fruit 
blossoms, wild flowers and young corn. The presence of 
English ladies and children added a homely, sociable air 
to the place, making it seem more than ever like a 
northern Indian station ; and very soon came further 
good news that raised the barometer of men's spirits all 
over the country. 

The Russian battalions, that Macnaghten vainly 
yearned to overawe, had succumbed to weapons more 
irresistible than musket and sword. First snow, then 
pestilence and famine had so thinned their ranks, that all 
thought of advance had to be given up for, like the 
army of Sennacherib, "they were all dead men." 

Despite the tragedy involved, harassed Afghan 


politicals let out a unanimous breath of relief ; while 
the excursive brain of Macnaghten which had been 
roaming at large beyond the Hindu Rush returned with 
zest to such minor items in his comprehensive programme 
as the annexation of Herat, the Punjab and Nepal. 

" We have a beautiful game on our hands," he con- 
fided to a friend, " if only we have the inclination to 
play it properly." Wherefore in spite of evidence 
that Lord Auckland cherished no inclination for whole- 
sale absorption he proceeded to call for more troops 
and more money, that he might carry on, unhampered, 
his " beautiful game " of knocking down and setting up 
kingdoms and principalities to the tune of " See the 
Conquering Hero Comes." Small wonder if, as the year 
wore on, the fulsome tissue of praise, hitherto woven 
at the Simla Secretariat, were chequered with hints at 
mismanagement and expressions of uneasiness amounting 
to alarm. 


THAT there were ample grounds for uneasiness cannot 
be denied. For while Afghanistan's Envoy like another 
Johnny-head-in-air strode across Asia and took counsel 
with the stars, a fresh crop of dangers flourished 
unobserved at his very feet. 

With the first breath of spring the Ghilzais were 
'* up " round Ghazni, enjoying themselves finely and 
cutting off communications between Kabul and Kandahar. 
Later on, Khelat broke out into a fierce spasm of unrest. 
Quetta was besieged by Kakurs. The son of Mehrab 
Khan was afoot with intent to oust the usurper, and all 
Beluchistan was flocking to his aid. 

Fortunately Macnaghten had a general of Nott's 
calibre in that region; a blessing he was strangely slow 
to appreciate. But Nott inured by now to lack of 
official appreciation did his duty none the less thor- 
oughly for that. With the Ghilzais his officers dealt 
promptly and successfully. The money-bag was called 
in to supplement the bayonet; and, for the moment, it 
suited the " rebels " to accept the only forms of argu- 
ment they could respect or understand. Khelat was a 
lengthier, more complicated affair. But here, too as in 
every chance of action vouchsafed him Nott ultimately 
gained the day. 

To his " children " the whole tale was told in vigorous 
fashion, interlarded with no less vigorous denunciation 
of the " high authorities at Kabul " and all their works : 



denunciation at times too caustic and sweeping ; yet 
rarely, if ever, without some foundation in fact. 

From his camp in the Ghilzai country he wrote on the 
21st of June : " Contrary to my repeated advice, the 
great people at Kabul would send a large force into the 
Ghilzai country, and they would drag me from Kandahar 
to command it. In fact, they were terribly alarmed, and 
would not believe me when I told them that the detach- 
ment I sent out under Anderson would put down rebel- 
lion. . . . Now they are sore and angry, because that 
was done in a few days which they had been talking and 
writing about for six months ; so that they will not give 
Anderson one line of praise for a smart action : the only 
one in which the much-talked-of Army of the Indus met 
an enemy who fought daringly and bravely. 

4 'Well, after this, the people at Kabul sent down 
political agents, troops and the Prince Royal Tirnour; 
and they have, by their measures, done all in their power 
to goad the people into fresh rebellion. 

" I have not, just now, a moment to spare, or I could 
show you such a scene. In my opinion, the conduct of 
the English authorities has been so atrocious that the 
Press will be full of it. I have again written, begging 
them to withdraw the Kabul troops. . . . 

" I know not what I am writing, as some fifty Afghans 
are at my tent door, crying loudly for justice. Now justice 
is a scarce article under the Shah's government ; but these 
simple people fancy that the General Sahib, with an army 
at his nod, can do wonders for them. 

"I have had, yesterday and to-day, every officer in 
camp at my tent. I fancy most of them merely came 
to see the beast who annoyed and defied Sir John Keane 
and Lord Auckland, and ruined himself and all his pros- 
pects. Never mind the grave will soon cover me. . . ." 


And again on the 4th of July from the same camp 
he wrote of another conflict very different from Captain 
Anderson's gallant little action in May. 

"The high authorities at Kabul are alarmed beyond 
measure, and I have had occupation sufficient in answer- 
ing their long and foolish letters. They are like small 
birds, frightened in a storm, ready to perch upon any- 
thing for protection. Poor men! What will they do 
when real danger conies? And I think it is possibly at 
hand, owing to their false measures. 

"Ten days ago I sent in a long statement regarding 
this district, with arguments and arrangements directly 
contrary to their instructions. I have just received an 
answer agreeing to my proposals. But they have not 
pardoned one of the rebel chiefs, who has taken refuge 
in the mountains, because the Shah has a personal dislike 
to him ! So that this chief is left as an outlaw, and will, 
of course, become reckless, and take the first opportunity 
of again erecting the standard of rebellion. . . . 

" Unless the Shah and his advisers turn over a new leaf 
we shall have plenty to do in this country, and many of 
us will have our poor throats cut ; and that would be a 
great loss to the world. ... I 

"Such plunder, robbery and murder I have never read 
of in all history. Crowds of the unfortunate Afghans 
came round my tent the first two days after my arrival 
here. On the second day I flogged thirteen men belong- 
ing to the Kabul troops; but the greatest horrors were 
committed by Prince Timour's people. I soon stopped 
it in our army ; but I referred the complaints against the 
Prince's people to him, and the Politicals. 

" Well, even after this a number of men surrounded 
my tent . . . their bodies wounded and covered with 
blood. I had the plunderers seized, and they proved to 


be followers of the Prince. I sent to say that I had no 
wish to interfere with his Highness 's servants ; but if he 
did not punish the robbers I 'would. The Politicals 
blustered in the name of the Prince . . . and when sunset 
came I had the fellows flogged in the presence of the poor 
inhabitants who had been wounded and robbed. 

' ' I returned their property to them and they went 
away rejoicing. I told the Prince and Politicals that 
unless a stop was put to such atrocious conduct, I would 
separate my camp from theirs. I fancy they have repre- 
sented the whole to the Kabul authorities, who will not, 
I should think, dare to write to me on the subject. Yet 
they may : and how it will end I neither know nor care. 
I will never allow such scenes in a camp under my 

The "Kabul authorities" wrote, not to Kandahar, 
but to Simla. Sir Willoughby, though by no means 
friendly to Nott, set down a fair statement of the case. 
He regretted the necessity for punishment ; but presumed 
it was not intended that the discipline of the army, or 
the national credit for justice, should be sacrificed to 
maintaining the dignity of Afghan princes. But Mac- 
naghten irate with every one who could not see the Shah 
and his objectionable family through rose-coloured glass 
wrote, as only a man without humour could write, of 
" the deliberate outrage committed by General Nott on 
the dignity and feelings of the Prince." 

As a matter of fact the Afghan, more callous and 
practical than his champion, had himself declared that 
the General Sahib was perfectly right; adding: "When 
I came through the Punjab, if Colonel Wade had not 
punished my camp followers daily, how could we have 
passed? " Needless to say, this remark was not trans- 
mitted to Calcutta : and Lord Auckland, nervously 


anxious to keep Afghan princes quiet at all hazards, 
suffered himself to be more grievously ruffled than any 
royalty of them all. 

Once again William Nott's stern courage and resolution 
brought the " high displeasure " of Government down on 
his devoted head. But, by the time it reached him, he 
was far too deeply absorbed in straightening out the 
muddled affairs of Khelat to be properly impressed by 
the thunder of the gods. Not Khelat alone, but the 
whole of Upper Sindh was in a ferment; and, as usual, 
political errors must be washed out by the blood of the 
sepoy and the obstinately brave Beluch. The conduct of 
this affair demanded all Nott's energies of brain and body. 
Yet he found time, as always, for exhaustive letters to 
his girls. 

" We are truly in a delectable situation : Sir W. Mac- 
naghten suffered himself to be deceived, and he, in his 
turn, deceived Lord Auckland, and between them they 
have endangered the life of every European in Central 
Asia. ... I wrote letter after letter, begging that they 
would not separate my brigade into small detachments. 
They would not listen ; and I know not what the result 
will be. . . . I am disgusted. They most unjustly de- 
throned Mehrab Khan, and put a tool of Shah Shujah's 
in his place. . . . 

"Well, Mehrab Khan's son assembles his father's fol- 
lowers and retakes Khelat; our authorities talk big for 
a day or two ; then send me instructions to offer terms to 
the boy, declaring that they will place him on his father's 
throne; and thus they disgrace the character of our 
country ! Had they taken this boy by the hand when 
he was a wanderer in the land of his ancestors, there 
would have been a generous and honourable feeling ; but 
to bend the knee to him and his bloody chiefs now is 


disgraceful. The vain and rascally Shah Shujah has 
added a clause to the instructions I have received : the 
young hero boy must go up to Kabul to prostrate himself 
before his Majesty and beg for his father's throne, which 
he has already gained! .... 

"The young Khan of Khelat has refused the terms 
offered to him by our wise Minister and Envoy, and still 
swears that he will revenge his father's death. At a 
grand durbar he and all his chiefs swore upon that very 
convenient book, the Koran, that they would have their 
own terms, or die to a man. Poor people! 

"Had I been allowed to act on my own judgment, 
when Khelat fell into the hands of the rebels, the fortress 
would now have been in my possession, and the country 
in comparative quietness. But the authorities are never 
right, though they fancy themselves great men. They 
drink their claret, draw large salaries, and go about with 
a numerous rabble at their heels ; the Calcutta Treasury 
is drained of its rupees, and good-natured Lord Auckland 
approves of all. 

" In the meantime, everything goes wrong here. We 
are become hated by the people, and the English name 
and character, which two years ago stood so high and 
so fair, has become a byword. Thus it is to employ 
men selected by intrigue and patronage. . . . Nothing 
but force will ever make the Afghans submit to the hated 
Shah Shujah, who is as great a scoundrel as ever lived. 
The Minister objected to my bringing the 42nd with me 
from Kandahar, and Sir W. Cotton gave in to his opinion. 
The consequences are the Khan of Khelat is insolent : 
Khelat is not taken ; my hands are tied ; and the whole 
country in rebellion ! Oh ! they are a precious set, and a 
precious price John Bull will have to pay for all their 
fantastic tricks! " 


Could Nott have visited Kabul in person and brought 
his terribly honest brain to bear upon things seen and 
heard in that centre of loyalty and devotion, it is to be 
feared that he would not have felt constrained to modify 
his sweeping strictures in any marked degree. For truth 
to tell, the double Government showed little sign of 
working more smoothly now than it had done at first. 

Macnaghten might laud the King in letters to Simla 
as "merciful and kind-hearted," "the best and ablest 
man in the kingdom " : but his people could have told 
another tale. He had much power for evil ; since he 
could, and did, put his allies in the awkward position of 
having to enforce measures both unpopular and unjust. 
Worse than all, he set up, as Minister of State, a* 
decrepit old priest named Mullah Shakore. The man 
had managed his stunted household at Ludhiana, and was 
therefore reckoned fit to manage affairs of state, in spite 
of the trifling drawback that his memory had gone the 
way of his ears, which had been "removed," in early 
days, on account of some offence against royalty. But if 
he could not remember the faces seen, from day to day, 
he managed to retain a very clear idea of the treaty 
between Great Britain and his master. Secretly, there- 
fore, he impressed upon the people that Shah Shujah's- 
infidel allies had violated that treaty by keeping a force 
in the country, interfering secretly in its management and 
inducing Afghans to look to them for favour. 

" Though feeble in other respects," said Sir John Kaye r 
" this Mullah Shakore was not feeble in his hatred of the 
British. The Minister oppressed the people. The people 
appealed to the British functionaries. The British func- 
tionaries remonstrated with the Minister. The Minister 
punished the people for appealing. . . . So, bravely, for 
a time, worked the double Government at Kabul 

DD 2 


It was, from the first, only a question of how long such a 
system could be propped up by the strong arm and the 
long purse of the king-makers." 

But the farce of universal devotion, and the belief in 
a country steadily settling down under the new order, 
were still kept up, for the benefit of the Calcutta Govern- 
ment, by the king-maker-in-chief, whose happiness, in 
reunion with his wife, was marred at this time by official 
friction with his own folk : a too common feature of his 
rule. For, on the Shah's return to the Bala Hissar, it 
was necessary to complete as soon as might be those 
fatal cantonments, aptly and bitterly denounced as "the 
sheepfolds on the plain." The swampy stretch of ground 
given over to them, was, as has been said, well commanded 
on all sides by neighbouring forts and hills. Its high 
enclosing wall was replaced by a ditch and a weak field- 
work, bastioned at the corners ; while the lines them- 
selves were rendered less defensible than ever by crowd- 
ing in upon them the compound of the British Mission, 
with its quarters and offices innumerable. Worse still, 
they were cut off by river both from the city and the 
Bala Hissar itself. 

It is said that no objections were raised to the site 
offered by the Shah ; while yet it is admitted that " no 
worse position could have been chosen." Impossible not 
to suspect that the Shah jealous and restive at heart 
was cunning enough to be well aware of the fact. But 
none seem to have entertained the idea, and certainly 
Macnaghten would have been shocked at the bare sug- 
gestion. Sturt, Durand's successor, made one last, abor- 
tive attempt harem or no harem to keep the troops 
within the fort ; and failing, set his men to work outside 
upon the plain. 

But if Sir Willoughby were satisfied, there was at least 


one soldier in Kabul who looked with dismay upon the 
work that was already going forward when Head-quarters 
returned from Jalalabad. To Brigadier Roberts a 
strong man and a fine soldier, then in command of Shah 
Shujah's force both the site and the plan of those 
barracks-to-be appeared "most objectionable." Fearing 
that they might be destined for his own troops, he lodged 
a protest and suggested improvements. Sturt replied 
that the lines were for Cotton's force ; that the founda- 
tions were half-laid, and it was " useless questioning now 
the expediency of any plan." 

But Roberts had been head of the Building Department 
in India ; and the longer he looked, the more he dis- 
approved of a cantonment obviously insanitary and in- 
defensible. A protest sent to Captain Douglas, A.A.G., 
brought the answer that Sir Willoughby approved. If 
the Brigadier had objections, he could state them to the 
Envoy. In spite of an implication that he was interfer- 
ing unwarrantably, he did state them to the Envoy, who 
smiled affably ; seemed much impressed ; and did precisely 

So Stuart's sappers and miners continued to erect that 
most tragical "folly on the plain," with the primary 
object, it would seem, of convincing the Afghans that 
they were neither feared nor suspected by the friends of 
their King. It was not even deemed necessary to place 
the Commissariat stores within the futile enclosure. They 
were lodged in a fort near by : and only the ammunition, 
with a strong guard, remained in the Bala Hissar for 
a time. 

It has been urged, in extenuation, that the cantonment 
was originally meant to be no more than a barrack-yard 
for peaceful occupation : that no man in his senses would 
have accepted such a site, nor any engineer have con- 


structed such a work, had there been any idea of making 
it defensible. A plea of this nature serves only to shift 
the point of blame. For assuredly, in such circumstances 
and in such a country where every village is a fortified 
post no soldier of any sense and foresight would have 
sanctioned the building of cantonments other than defen- 
sible let the Shah say what he would. But, from first 
to last, all things were sacrificed to a false show of 
security, that availed no man anything in the day of 
disaster when the " floods came and the rain descended 
and beat upon that house," which was founded upon sand. 

So the " folly on the plain " came rapidly into being ; 
and the Brigadier registered a vow that his force, at all 
events, should be more suitably housed. But it was one 
thing to win Macnagh ten's consent to a plan, and quite 
another to get it carried out. Hence renewed friction 
between two men innately unfitted to work in unison. 

For Roberts, like Pottinger and Nott, was of the clear- 
eyed, resolute, straight-spoken type that rarely found 
favour in the Envoy's eyes. Had he ever analysed his 
feelings about either of these three, Macnaghten might 
have said, with Caesar : "He thinks too much : such men 
are dangerous." As it was, he merely grew irritable, 
and began to wish the "intrusive" Brigadier elsewhere. 
Their mutual positions involved them in frequent con- 
troversy, almost amounting to clash of authority. 
Roberts regarded the Envoy as a sanguine visionary, 
diligently paving the pathway to disaster; while Mac- 
naghten, for his part, resented the soldier's advice ; 
denounced his keen insight as "imbecile fear " ; his out- 
spoken convictions as "little short of rank mutiny." So 
hard it is for the lion to lie down with the lamb, be he 
never so lamb-like. 

As the summer advanced, signs of disquiet all over the 


country impelled Roberts to protest against the unwisdom 
of lodging Government treasure in the heart of the city, 
where Captain Johnson, his paymaster, was living with 
Burnes. Strange to say, Macnaghten agreed ; and the 
treasure was removed to the Bala Hissar. 

But Johnson soon found it inconvenient to send so far 
for money; and, backed by Burnes, he appealed for a 
return to the former arrangement, adding : "The guard 
would strengthen our position here two such valuable 
people ! " The harassed Envoy found it simplest to say 
" Yes " ; and the order was given. Roberts again 
urgently pointed out the risk involved : but Captain 
Johnson's convenience prevailed. 

Result when the crash came, the treasury was sacked ; 
and .17,000 of public money that should have been safe 
in the Bala Hissar fell into the hands of infuriated 
Afghan chiefs. Johnson who, by chance, had slept in 
Cantonments did not, like so many others, pay the 
supreme penalty for putting his own comfort before the 
safety of Government funds. 

But in the summer of 1840 it was heresy to suggest 
the possibility of a " crash." Hence the growing un- 
popularity of Roberts, who could not bring himself to 
make " an easy present, at the cost of a disastrous 
future." His attitude must have been the more galling 
to Macnaghten, because hints of a like nature were now 
beginning to reach him from all quarters. Letters 
appeared in Agra and Calcutta journals, impugning the 
Shah's popularity and the success of his government. In 
due time these found their way to breakfast tables at 
Kabul ; and worse than all it began to be known at 
Calcutta how universally the Shah was disliked both by 
Afghan and British troops. Government comments on 
this head were too much for Macnaghten ; and at last his 


vexation overflowed in letters to his old friend John 

He complained bitterly of credence given to tales 
devised by "idle persons " who resented being detained 
in a land "not overflowing with beer and cheroots.*' 
His grievance grew with the telling of it. " And now, 
my dear Colvin," he went on, "you must allow me to 
disburden my mind to you. I have fancied I perceived 
lately a want of confidence in my proceedings, and a 
disposition to listen to every unfavourable report . . . 
while I do not receive the support to which the 
overwhelming difficulties of my position entitle me." 
Followed an allusion to controversies " thrust upon him " 
by Brigadier Roberts, of whom he wrote in no flattering 
terms ; hopeful, no doubt, that supreme Authority might 
see fit to remove so obvious a thorn in the flesh. 

But Lord Auckland who looked eagerly for the day 
when Afghanistan should be emptied of all troops save 
the Shah's force wrote decisively of his strong desire to 
uphold the military position of the Brigadier, whom he 
roundly applauded; adding that "every officer in the 
country should be led to look to him." 

For Macnaghten, this was the last straw. If Govern- 
ment had lost confidence in him, he would resign : and 
again he wrote to Colvin, the private secretary, in the 
same injured strain. " If no important operations should 
be contemplated for next year . . . public money will be 
saved by the appointment of a less paid, though equally 
qualified agent. I have never yet served in an office where 
I had not the confidence of my superiors ; and my inclina- 
tion to do so is not strengthened after a laborious public 
life of thirty-one years." 

But in the end ruffled vanity was smoothed down. 
Place and power were not to be lightly flung aside. 


Instead, Macnaghten manoeuvred the removal of Roberts 
from Kabul, even as he had displaced Pottinger at Herat. 
The Brigadier returned to India, baulked and disgusted ; 
but, like Keane, "he left a prediction behind him, and 
he knew, that, sooner or later, History would do him 

Thus were two " alarmists " banished from Mac- 
naghten's sphere of influence ; whilst Burnes' intermittent 
" croakings " were cleverly discounted in a letter to Lord 
Auckland, written soon after; a letter urging afresh the 
prompt annexation of Peshawur and Herat ; urging also 
the necessity for reliefs, as officers and men were grumbling 
and the troops fairly worn out. 

"In a day or two," he wound up, "I shall send up 
officially, with my comments, a paper handed to me by 
Sir A. Burnes ... on the prospects of this country. I 
hope to show that we are in as prosperous a condition as 
could have been expected. Sir A. of course wishes to 
prove the contrary ; since, by doing so, when he suc- 
ceeds me, his failures will find excuse, and his success 
additional merit. This is all natural enough." 

But Burnes, grown cynically indifferent, had sought 
refuge in Tacitus and in philosophic reflections on the 
vanity of human wishes. Not so the most redoubtable 
"croaker " and "alarmist " of them all William Nott, 
who in the teeth of supersession, injustice and lack of 
appreciation ceased not from exerting himself to the 
utmost, whenever opportunity came his way. For him, 
Macnaghten had secured Government censure. The 
attempt at stronger measures was reserved for a later 

Meantime while Nott was handling the Khelat out- 
break in his wonted masterful and masterly fashion 
the fruit of Lord's superfluous zeal began to be felt in 


Bamian and the regions round about. Not content with 
a position already too advanced for so weak a detach- 
ment, he seized the first opportunity of despatching a 
party to reconnoitre the more northerly passes beyond the 
valley of Saighan, where already his restlessness had 
created suspicion and alarm. 

Now Saighan lies beyond the valley of Bamian ; and 
beyond that again lies the territory of Kulam, where 
Jubber Khan still remained, doubtful lest acceptance of 
British protecton might endanger his brother's life. 
Lord's advance had at least the merit of bringing his 
indecision to an end. On the 3rd of July he and the 
whole two hundred and fifty arrived at Bamian, prepared 
to accept "honourable asylum " at Macnaghten's hand. 
The Nawab, with his personal belongings, was allowed 
to occupy his own castle ; and the Dost's family party was 
established at Ghazni until further orders. 

But Lord never at rest pushed his advanced guard 
farther still. An isolated fort, beyond Saighan, was dis- 
covered and occupied. Lord strongly commended retain- 
ing it as permanent frontier post. Sturt, a competent 
engineer, condemned the place ; but Lord sent glowing 
letters to Kabul and carried his point. Three hundred 
Afghan levies under Captain Hopkins were despatched 
to him ; and for a while his triumph was complete. But, 
early in August, came news of a regrettable reverse, 
wherein two companies of Gurkhas, attacked in a defile, 
had only been saved from destruction by the chance 
arrival of Sturt with two more companies of the same 
gallant corps. 

Macnaghten's nerves had lately been tried by a series 
of mortifying failures whose significance he was not the 
man to admit : and on the 12th he wrote to a friend : 
" All these little accidents happening at once are enough 


to disgust one. But Inshallah ! the Company's Nasib l 
will prove superior to them all ! " 

Yet, within the week, an intercepted letter threw 
startling light on the spirit underlying these " little 
accidents." A number of influential chiefs setting aside 
their private feuds, and backed by Britain's faithful allies, 
the Sikhs had combined to ferment a widespread rising 
in favour of that most unpopular tyrant Dost Mahomed 

Macnaghten, distracted beyond measure, and now 
thoroughly alarmed, hurried off to take counsel with his 
Majesty. But the hour for taking counsel was already 
past. The hour for action was at hand. Thanks to the 
alarm created by Lord's activity, Dost Mahomed had 
escaped from Bokhara and had been received with open 
arms by the Wall of Khulam. 

1 Luck, 


AT first the Shah and his Envoy could scarcely credit 
news so harassing for them both. But events very soon 
convinced them it was true. 

After months of more or less polite confinement, Dost 
Mahomed, the resourceful, was abroad again, fully deter- 
mined, if followers were forthcoming, to regain his 
throne or fall in the attempt ; and it is not too much to 
say that he owed this happy change of fortune mainly to 
the irritating activity of Dr. Lord in and around the 
valley of Bamian. For the zeal of that indefatigable 
officer had seriously alarmed the neighbouring chiefs of 
Khulam, Kunduz and Kokan. They, who had been 
jealous of the Amir in earlier days, now began to feel 
for him as the victim of aggressive infidels, whose dis- 
interested benevolence seemed but a cloak for unlimited 
extension of their rule. Thus were the petty enmities 
between chief and chief gradually resolved into united 
enmity against the unbeliever. 

So it came to pass that when the tyrant at Bokhara 
foiled in his plan to secure the Dost^s family forbade 
him and his sons to leave their house, even for religious 
worship, protests arose, where otherwise had been mere 
indifference. First the Shah of Persia, then the Amir 
of Kokan roundly rebuked the chief ; the latter emphasiz- 
ing his rebuke by a movement in force towards Bokhara. 
The movement sufficed. Dost Mahomed and his sons 
were suffered to attend a mosque near by, without a 



personal guard ; nor were they slow in turning that 
permission to good account. 

A daring plan was evolved, and daringly carried 
through. Mahomed Akbar with Sultan Jan was to flee 
in one direction ; Dost Mahomed, disguised as an Uzbeg, 
in another; thus confusing the trail. So, upon an even- 
ing of July, he slipped secretly forth ; met his appointed 
guide, an Uzbeg horseman, in a by-way of the city; 
sprang up behind, and, all unrecognized, ambled away 
from the clutches of his over-hospitable host. 

Some miles out, a goodly horse awaited him ; and the 
two sped on, in such desperate haste that the Amir's 
mount fell lame. " Better a sound yaboo than a lame 
horse," quoth he; and taking his companion's pony soon 
left him far behind. 

The guide, falling in with men from Bokhara in 
search of the lost Amir, bethought him cunningly that 
further money might be gained by betraying his trust. 

" You have the prize in your grasp," said he. " There 
goes Dost Mahommed on ahead. Catch him up while 
there is yet time." 

But they laughed him to scorn. 

" The Amir on such a sorry yaboo, and you, his 
follower, on a blood horse! A likely tale! It is you 
that are the Dost disguised ; and the prize is in our grasp 
indeed ! " 

Vain alike were remonstrance and denial. The man 
was caught in his own trap ; and the Amir fled on, till 
his yaboo dropped exhausted by the way. But, his 
kismet being good, he fell in with a caravan ; and feign- 
ing sickness, sought refuge in a camel kajawar, 1 which 
undignified conveyance brought him at last in safety to 
the territory of a friendly chief. Here, despite irate 

1 Camel pannier. 


commands from Bokhara, a charger, a dress of honour, 
and a thousand horsemen were added unto him ; and so, 
on to Khulam, where he heard with satisfaction of 
Kohistani chiefs goaded into rebellion by unpopular 
revenue officers ; of Yar Mahomed threatening Kandahar ; 
of fighting in Khelat and Sindh. 

All things seemed favourable for his reappearance on 
the scene ; nor was it long before he and his friend the 
Wali found themselves at the head of five thousand 
Uzbeg horsemen, plus kettledrums, standard and one 
priceless gun. A rough-and-ready army ; but its numbers 
put fresh heart into the Amir, and fired both chiefs to 
make one determined bid for victory. They would cut 
up the Bamian detachment; emerge from the Hindu 
Kush; and, profiting by Shah Shujah's unpopularity, 
raise the whole countryside with the cry of Jehad. Kabul 
would be taken and Dost Mahomed reinstated, with the 
Wali for his Wazir. 

It was a stirring programme; and, on August the 
30th, they began upon Lord's little frontier outpost. 
They were repulsed ; but the Gurkha officers, Codrington 
and Rattrey, wisely fell back upon Saighan ; and thence 
again with Hopkins and his Afghan levies on Bamian. 

There is nothing in war more demoralizing than retreat. 
Officers and men lost everything ; and, worse than all, 
the atmosphere of the Hindu Kush, and the magic 
presence of Dost Mahomed, proved fatal to the purchased 
loyalty of Shah Shujah's levies. Headed by their 
Commandant Saleh Mohamed (of whom more hereafter) 
they plundered their officers and went over in numbers 
to the standard of the Amir. 

Cheerful news, this, for an Envoy whose optimism was 
already strained to breaking point. Weak as he was in 
troops, he must needs despatch Brigadier Dennie, with 


the 35th Native Infantry and two hundred horse, to 
strengthen the detachment that should never have been 
sent to Bamian. Yet Kabul itself was in a very feverish 
state : the city was full of Sikh emissaries, openly hostile. 
People were shutting up shops and sending away their 
families. In the upper storey of the Bala Hissar gate- 
way, Shah Shujah's band had been replaced by a guard 
of troops; and the beloved monarch dared scarcely 
venture abroad. 

In this crisis Sir Willoughby wrote to Macnaghten : 
" I really think the time has arrived for you and I to 
tell Lord Auckland that there is no Afghan army; and 
that, unless the Bengal troops are instantly strengthened 
we cannot hold the country." 

For once he was not labelled " croaker." Macnaghten 
lost no time in forwarding the General's verdict, 
emphasized by lamentations of his own. " Affairs in this 
quarter have the worst possible appearance. ... At no 
period of my life do I remember being so much harassed 
as during the last month. The Afghans are gunpowder, 
and the Dost a lighted match. Of his whereabouts we 
are wonderfully ignorant. ... I have great fear that 
he will throw himself into the Kohistan, where, it is said, 
the whole country will rise in his favour. . . . The Shah 
Zadah's presence there is indispensable. He sets out this 
evening attended by all the chivalry of Kabul." A fine- 
sounding phrase, this; though what Kabul could boast 
in the way of chivalry, it were hard to guess. 

But so full of surprises is the fortune of war, that 
even while Macnaghten sat pouring forth his woes on 
paper, Colonel Dennie was dispersing them with musket 
and sword. 

On the 17th, news had reached him that bodies of 
cavalry were entering the valley through the great defile, 


six miles from Barman. A friendly village had been 
attacked; and next morning Dennie set out with three 
hundred sabres, five hundred bayonets and two guns, to 
make known the " posture of his blows " by punishing 
the enemy's advanced guard. 

At once, the scouts fell back before him and the 
astonishing truth stood revealed. 

There confronted his little force, no mere advance 
guard, but an army of six thousand Uzbegs, led by Dost 
Mahomed and the Wali of Khulam. The heights bristled 
with them, and every post leading to the great defile was 
occupied in force. Irregular and undisciplined they 
might be, but they presented a formidable front. 
Dennie 's little detachment, hopelessly outnumbered, 
depended for salvation on promptness, discipline and 
dash. To hesitate or even to await reinforcements were 
to lose the game, which is not the way of British officers 
who find themselves in a tight corner. 

The advance was ordered. Gurkhas and Sepoys dashed 
forward, supported by Murray Mackenzie's guns. At 
each fort in turn the Uzbegs made a determined stand. 
But the guns were nobly served ; and their fire made 
terrible havoc on dense bodies of men powerless to nit 

It was the old story, a hundred times proven by 
history. Against discipline and dash numbers are of 
little avail. Before long, that formidable army was 
broken up and in full flight, with Anderson's Horse at 
their heels. Tents, kettledrums, standards and the gun 
all were abandoned ; Dost Mahomed and his son being 
saved only by the fleetness of their mounts. 

It was a proud day for Dennie, and for Lord, who 
promptly despatched a messenger to the Amir, proffering 
terms of honourable surrender. Dost Mahomed sent 


answer stoutly that he would conquer or fall. But 
fearing not without reason that defeat might affect 
the Wali's fidelity, he fled post haste, by a devious route, 
resolved to raise a fresh army and fling himself into the 
Kohistan. Thither he would have gone originally. But 
even as Burnes, in '39, had sent money there, to stir 
up rebellion, so now, had he and Macnaghten descended 
to the Eastern device of despatching forged letters that 
warned the Dost not to enter the Kohistan, as its chiefs 
had been bribed by the Feringhis to deliver him into their 
hands. For a time these warnings had checked and 
puzzled the Amir. But they did not tally with his own 
knowledge of facts ; and in the end he decided to trust 
this last. So while his late ally patched up a truce 
with Dr. Lord the dauntless Chief rode up hill and 
down, through defiles and over passes, into that wild hill 
country north-west of Kabul, where all men awaited him, 
and his welcome was sure. 

News of his escape tempered Macnagh ten's delight at 
Dennie's victory ; and reawakened his fear that, in spite 
of warnings, the Dost might try his fortune in the 
Kohistan. There the chiefs grew daily more hostile, and 
it needed but the inspiring presence of the Amir to set the 
whole region in a blaze. Plainly something must be done 
and that soon. Dost Mahomed seemed a human Will- 
o'-the-wisp ; here one moment, there the next. A veil 
of inviolate secrecy cloaked his every move; and though 
large sums were offered for news of him, only conflicting 
rumours came to hand. But the punishment of rebellious 
chiefs provided motive and scope for action. Hence the 
departure of Prince Timour and the " chivalry of 
Kabul," backed by a strong force under Sir Robert Sale. 
With them went Burnes, as Political Assistant, and his 
devoted Munshi, Mohun Lai. 



For three weeks Sir Robert Sale scoured that inhos- 
pitable region, destroying forts and villages ; marching 
hopefully hither and thither at the beck of rumour ; but 
with never a sight of Dost Mahomed Khan. The pro- 
longed game of hide-and-seek was all in the Afghan's 
favour. He knew every inch of the country ; and, warn- 
ings or no, the chiefs were his allies to a man. A fresh 
army had flocked to his standard ; and with unabated 
energy he threaded defiles, scaled passes, and hovered 
on the outskirts of the British force, keeping it ceaselessly 
on the alert, yet baffling every attempt at surprise. For 
he did not lack adherents, even among the Shah's fol- 
lowers ; and once a whole company of Kohistani levies 
went over to him in a body. 

None the less were those three weeks as anxious and 
trying for the Amir as for Sir Robert Sale. To play 
hide-and-seek with the Feringhis on his own ground was 
a simple matter enough ; but conviction grew in him that 
to drive them and their disciplined troops out of the 
country would prove a task beyond his power. 

But while, from day to day, he deferred the ignominy 
of surrender, the long suspense began to tell severely on 
the nerves of Macnaghten and his Shah. 

Nor was the tension relieved when, of a sudden, Kabul 
was electrified by definite news that the Dost had appeared 
at Nijrao scarce fifty miles off with a goodly following 
which daily increased in strength. A fever of consterna- 
tion and excitement prevailed, and so inflammable was 
the state of the city that a concentration of troops, 
women and children in the Bala Hissar was predicted as 
the next move. Already guards were doubled and guns 
mounted on the citadel to overawe the town ; while 
armourers carried on a brisk trade in the sharpening of 
daggers and swords. 


The Envoy, anxious and irritable, began to think 
seriously of " setting a price on the fellow's head." Shah 
Shujah made no secret of his eagerness to "hang the 
dog"; and when Macnaghten mildly deprecated such 
severe measures, fell to taunting the Englishman on the 
mistaken leniency of his race. 

"I suppose even now," said he, "if I were to catch 
the dog, you would prevent me from hanging him." 

" It will be time enough to talk of that," returned the 
diplomatic Envoy, "when your Majesty has caught him." 

But as he rose to depart, the Shah whipped out a letter 
from his kummerbund. Read t/iat," said he, " from mine 
own brother! " 

And Macnaghten read. 

The letter was addressed to the Barakzai chief at 
Peshawur, and bore the seal of the old blind King, Shah 
Zeman. It contained a proposal that, with the aid of 
the Sikhs, he should try and regain the throne, since 
Shah Shujah had given over his kingdom to the infidels. 
Forgery or no, it filled Macnaghten with alarm, and 
effectually banished his merciful mood. Next day, in a 
long letter to Lord Auckland, he announced his intention 
of " showing no mercy to the author of all the evil that 
is distracting the country " ; though, if caught, he would 
request his Majesty not to execute the Dost till he had 
"ascertained his Lordship's sentiments." 

But by that time October was drawing to an end ; and 
the day of decision was nearer than any man believed. 

On the 2nd of November it came as such things most 
often come in a fashion equally unexpected by all. On 
the 27th Dost Mahomed left Nijrao, whence he drew 
cautiously nearer to the capital with an army of some 
four thousand horse and foot : and on November 1, Sale's 
reconnoitring force discovered that their prize was no 

EE 2 


more than twelve miles off in the Valley of Purwan 

It was a moment of intense excitement; and next day 
the troops set out, on a golden morning of autumn, fully 
determined to bring the long duel to an issue once for all. 
But on reaching the narrow valley, after a difficult march, 
the advance guard, under Colonel Salter, found that Dost 
Mahomed's troops had broken cover from the forts and 
orchards and were rapidly making their way along the 
heights as if to retreat through the Purwan Pass. 

Yet another escape was not to be tolerated. There, 
within sight and almost within reach, was the unseen 
foe they had been chasing for six weeks. A sky-blue 
standard indicated his position at the head of some two 
hundred horse ; for the bulk of his army was afoot. 

At once the cavalry prepared for action, and guns were 
pushed swiftly to the front. But unhappily Dr. Lord 
who had joined the force proposed that the 2nd 
Cavalry should execute a flank movement to prevent all 
chance of escape. 

The two squadrons, under Captain Fraser, turned 
" threes about " to obey the order. But Dot Mahomed, 
seeing that his retreat might be cut off, drew up at once, 
and prepared to descend the hill. 

Rising in his stirrups, and lifting the great turban from 
his head, he cried aloud : " Now, in the name of God, we 
will conquer or die. Follow me all ! Drive these 
Feringhis from the country or I am a lost man." 

And they followed him steadily, though not swiftly, 
down the broken slope ; while Lord, in his fashion, exhorted 
Fraser's troopers. "See that blue flag?" he shouted. 
" There is Dost Mahomed. A lakh of rupees for him 
living or dead ! " 

In such a juncture advance was imperative ; and Fraser 


beside himself at thought that the honour of capture 
might be his promptly gave the countermand : " Front ! 
Draw swords 1 Gallop! Charge!" 

On that word, they were greeted by a brisk fire from 
Dost Mahomed's infantry; and the officers dashed for- 
ward, never dreaming that their men would do otherwise 
than follow at full speed. 

But the troopers already half turned about wavered ; 
went forward merely at a trot ; saw themselves cut off 
from their officers ; saw those officers all in a moment 
surrounded, wounded, killed. Then did the Afghans, 
headed by Dost Mahomed, charge gallantly down the 
slope in compact order, laying about them with their 
sabres at those faint-hearted troopers, who fled like scat- 
tered sheep ; riderless horses careering in all directions. 

Their Captains, Fraser and Ponsonby, desperately 
wounded both, were saved by their horses. Two subal- 
terns were killed ; and Lord who had pluckily joined the 
charge escaped out of the meUe, only to be shot through 
the heart by a marksman from one of the forts. 

The little force, watching from below, saw nothing but 
a wild jumble of men and horses ; nor did they realize, 
till too late, how ill matters had gone for themselves. 
Fraser, dizzy and covered with blood a fearful gash 
down his back, his right hand almost severed from the 
wrist rode up and reported the disaster, with admirable 
coolness and control. He was then removed to the 
ambulance corps, stricken far more in heart than in body 
by the unaccountable disgrace of his regiment and the 
loss of his royal prize. 

Though the guns had been drawn up, the enemy had 
passed out of range ; and now, carrying their red banner 
to a rocky height, they planted it there, in defiant token 
of victory. 


This was too much for the spirit of Robert Sale. The 
hill was fairly impracticable ; yet he bade three com- 
panies, with two guns, storm it and dislodge that flaunt- 
ing standard. The climb was a desperate one, under 
steady fire ; but a sense of lost honour to be retrieved 
must have inspired all ranks ; and the thing was done. 
The Afghans descended on the farther side ; and Sale's 
force lay down that night fully armed, expecting little 
or no rest. 

But the hours of darkness passed unchallenged. Never 
a shot was fired. Those that were not in pain or anxiety 
slept sound ; and when morning dawned, behold, three 
thousand men had melted away like dew. 

Once again that piece of human quicksilver, the Amir, 
had slipped out of their grasp and was gone upon his 
wanderings none could tell where. 


TWENTY-FOUR hours after the fight, upon the evening 
of November the 3rd, Sir William Macnaghten and 
George Lawrence, attended by four sowars, were return- 
ing leisurely from their afternoon ride in the outskirts of 
the city. Both were cast down ; and Macnaghten more 
than a little irritated. For, at starting, he had received 
a desperate note from Burnes, written soon after the 
disaster, urging that all troops be recalled and concen- 
trated at Kabul for the defence of that city. Cheerful 
advice to a man responsible for English women and 
children, let alone England's policy and England's honour 
in that far corner of earth. 

He had just glanced through the note again and 
returned it to his pocket. " Over-coloured, as usual, I'll 
be bound," said he. "Time to talk of recalling the 
troops when I hear from Sale. Hullo ! whom have we 
here? " - For while he spoke, an Afghan had galloped 
up behind ; and now thrust himself unceremoniously 
between Lawrence and his Chief. 

" Is this the Lat Sahib? " l he panted. 

" It is," replied Lawrence, and the man caught eagerly 
at Sir William's bridle. 

" The Amir ! " he cried. " The Amir ! " 

No words could have wrought a more electrical effect. 

"What Amir? Who? Where?" exclaimed Mac- 
naghten, too agitated for coherence. 

But before the good man could reply, a second horse- 
1 The Lord Sahib. 


man thrust him aside ; sprang to the ground ; and, 
capturing the Envoy's hand, pressed it first to his head, 
then to his lips. 

Such obvious tokens of submission smote Macnaghten 
to a bewildered silence. He could not grasp, all in a 
moment, the full significance of an event so unexpected, 
so incredible, even in the face of facts. There must 
surely be some mistake somewhere. 

" Are you indeed Dost Mahomed Khan ? " he asked 

The Afghan inclined his head ; and for a long 
moment Macnaghten regarded " the author of all the 
evil," who was to expect no mercy at his hands. 

Haggard and careworn, from the hard life of the past 
few months, his grey beard uncut and untrimmed, he yet 
looked a fine, powerful figure of a man in his prime. His 
eyes, as always, were full of life and fire ; and his turban, 
set a little backward, revealed the remarkable angle of 
his brow. He had been twenty-four hours in the saddle ; 
yet he showed no sign of fatigue. 

Then Macnaghten dismounted also ; for they were close 
to the residency gate. 

" You are welcome, Amir Sahib you are very 
welcome," said he; and taking the arm of Eraser's 
coveted prize, passed on through the Mission garden to 
his own room : the selfsame room wherein Dost Mahomed 
had held court not two years ago. 

Now he prostrated himself, and, removing his turban, 
laid his forehead upon Macnaghten's foot. Then rising, 
he presented his sword, still stained with the blood of 
British troops. 

" It is yours," said he. "I have no further use for it." 

But the Envoy, not unmoved by his enemy's gallant 
bearing, refused the gift. 


"Why did you not come in sooner?" he asked. 
"Knowing you would receive honourable treatment?" 
and was told : "I have only come now because no man 
can control Destiny." 

For two hours these sworn enemies sat talking, on the 
friendliest terms ; and at the end of that time Sir William 
Macnaghten saw many things with new eyes. 

It seemed that those two months of plotting and con- 
triving had convinced the Dost that, do what he might, 
no undisciplined army could hope to rid the country of 
British troops; and he had awaited only one successful 
contest that would enable him to surrender with 
untarnished honour. Now his anxieties were over ; his 
mind at rest. By nature frank and communicative, he 
talked to all who came to greet him Afghan or English 
without embarrassment or reserve ; asked eagerly after 
his family ; and wrote at once to his sons, bidding them 
follow his example without loss of time. This they did ; 
only excepting Akbar Khan, whose ingrained hatred of 
the British was not to be set aside even at a father's 

Food was given to the Amir, and his entire wardrobe 
replenished from the Mission treasury. Yet incurable 
Afghan as he was it is said that he cunningly secured 
discount from the dealers for the whole amount paid ! 
One of his wives, being still in Kabul, was sent for by 
Lady Macnaghten, who in Mohun Lai's quaint phrasing 
"conducted her to the presence of her long-separated 
lord, the Amir." Tents were pitched for his reception, 
and he was put under the immediate care of George 
Lawrence, who scarcely closed his eyes for the first two 
nights ; while his charge slept as he had not slept these 
many weeks. 
For ten days Dost Mahomed Khan remained>t Kabul ; 


a prisoner, honoured and honourable, winning the friend- 
ship and even admiration of all British officers who came 
to know him ; though these religiously avoided the 
company of the King. 

Shah Shujah alone refused to see his enemy, declaring 
that he could not treat " the villain " with common 
civility ; and it is certain that Dost Mahomed felt no 
desire to confront the man who had used the power of 
infidels to rob him of a throne, which his own arm had 

To Macnaghten, above all, he spoke so frankly and 
freely of his past life, his troubles and adventures, that 
the kind-hearted Envoy remembered no more that vin- 
dictive hint at execution penned in a moment of distrac- 
tion. The Amir's " family " a miscellaneous company 
of five hundred souls was ordered to march from Ghanzi, 
and meet him at Peshawur; and on November the 12th, 
he departed from his own country attended by a personal 
escort of fifty Afghan horsemen in charge of Captain 
Peter Nicolson, the young political who had crossed 
swords with Nott after the Ghilzai campaign. As for 
the Envoy, so completely had his enmity evaporated, 
that he now found himself urging Lord Auckland, in 
all sincerity, to treat his prisoner at least as generously 
as Shah Shujah, if not more so. "For," argued he, 
"the cases are not parallel. The Shah had no claim on 
us. We did not deprive him of his kingdom ; whereas we 
ejected the Dost, in support of our policy, of which he 
was the victim." 

Thus, in a rare moment of mental and moral illumina- 
tion, did Macnaghten ingenuously denounce the very 
policy whereof he himself had been a prominent high 
priest ; and Lord Auckland, no longer blind to the truth, 
made a tardy attempt at reparation by burdening the 


Indian Treasury with a pension of two lakhs to one King, 
while he virtually supported two others upon their 
thrones. The Amir's destination was Ludhiana, where 
unhappily insult was added to injury, by lodging him in 
the same house whence Shah Shujah had been plucked 
to remove him from the throne. 

And now indeed it seemed, to all concerned, that the 
Afghan war was over at last : the more so that, on the 
very day Dost Mohamed surrendered, Nott had retaken 
Khelat. The Home Government was beginning to 
change its tone of approval for one of alarm, amounting 
to blame : while this last astonishing turn of the wheel 
gave Macnaghten and Lord Auckland yet another price- 
less opportunity for proving, to England and India, the 
sincerity of their Afghan machinations. 

"No more striking event could have been conceived," 
says Sir Henry Durand, " for the triumphant return of 
the Anglo-Indian Army to its own frontier. By furnish- 
ing so unhoped-for an occasion, Providence removed all 
reasonable ground of excuse or hesitation. But man in 
his short-sighted elation, clung to ill-gotten conquests ; 
and, rejecting the proffered opportunity, was overtaken 
by a fearful and terrible retribution." 


Calcutta, Jan. 16, 1841. 


" Your letter of the 28th October reached me on 
the last day of the year. I had given up all hope of 
hearing by that mail ; and was bemoaning my hard fate 
and accusing you all of forget fulness, when suddenly your 
letter, and two from Uncle Henry, arrived. You can 
have little idea how grateful the receipt of letters makes 
a wanderer like myself. I had been particularly cast 
down before ; as several gentlemen in the same house 
had received bundles of letters. They were all nearly 
strangers ; and I had gone to pass a few days there, while 
my lodgings were occupied by an officer's widow. Her 
husband had suddenly died, and my chum, who was 
getting married, volunteered the use of the house. . . . 

" You mention that Lady Macnaghten says the name 
of Pottinger is a passport all over India. Of that I can 
assure you there is no doubt. But Smith and Johnson 
and Thompson, etc., are quite as good; and both 
pockets full of money a great deal better than all put 
together. ... In consequence of Sir William Mac- 
naghten 's influence in favour of a friend of his, I am 
not to return to Herat : so you can judge how much a 
name, ours or any other, weighs with Sir W. M. It 
is true I am indifferent about going back, but neither 
Macnaghten nor any one else knows that. I rather 
think he committed himself when he believed I was going 
Home ; and has therefore obstinately persevered in trying 


to remove me from a situation which was peculiarly 
mine. ..." 

So wrote Eldred Pottinger now a Brevet-Major and 
a C.B. to boot after a year of pen-and-ink drudgery 
in the enervating climate and uncongenial atmosphere 
of old Calcutta. 

Save that he wore the soft shirt and smooth cloth coat 
of civilized manhood in the forties, the year had wrought 
little change, without or within. Only each week found 
him more " uncomfortable at sight of a pen " ; more 
impatient to begone upon the active, stirring business of 
life, wherein alone his true self could find expression. In 
vain he had begged for leave, to be spent in further 
exploring. Lord Auckland's kindness was continuous ; 
unasked, he spoke of future political employment; but, 
for the present, he would not let his unwilling prisoner 

So, throughout the summer, Pottinger had endured 
the clockwork routine of eating, sleeping and scratching 
with a pen. 

"I have no shooting or hunting, fishing or fighting," 
he complained to his favourite sister, Harriet, when the 
long hot weather was drawing to an end. " No time to 
try experiments, or do anything amusing to myself or 
others. I am therefore very sufficiently unhappy. The 
only act which has lately disturbed the routine of my 
life was accepting a challenge to walk three quarters of 
a mile in ten minutes at two in the morning ! A gentle- 
man took the bet, and we scuttled the distance in e.ight 
minutes ; but I have been knocked up ever since. I am 
so enervated with this climate and constant fever." 

For whatever friends he may have parted with, this 
one clave to him always, sapping his good spirits and his 
natural interest in any work on hand. 


Happily, other old friends beside the fever remained 
to cheer him. The good Hakeem had become a per- 
manent member of his household ; so also had the men of 
his Herati escort. His boys had been placed as students 
in the Hindu College; and Allah Dad Khan, after three 
years of faithful service, had returned to his own country, 
armed with a written commendation of his " great honesty 
and fidelity under many temptations and the abuse of 
co-religionists." Better still, his services were brought 
to the notice of the Bombay Government, with a view to 
future employment; and for present reward he had 
received the lordly sum of 2000 rupees. 

So much for the past. For the present though the 
cold weather brought mitigation of illness and discomfort, 
it brought also the inevitable round of station gaieties, 
little congenial to his taste ; the less so, that he must 
now submit to an attempt at lionizing mercifully of 
short duration. For what hostess could make anything 
of a lion who was neither to be flattered nor cajoled 
into talking of his own exploits; a lion whose roaring 
was gentler than that of "any sucking dove"; since 
it was, for the most part, inaudible. Like George 
Lawrence, the amiable young ladies of Calcutta found 
him "not very bright." Disappointment supervened. 
Alas, there was no denying it: socially, the "hero of 
Herat " as men called him proved a very uninteresting 
person, not worth the exertion of flattering. 

Little did they dream, good women, that, in his secret 
heart, he was devoutly thankful when they discovered 
the fact and gave him up in despair. It was ordeal 
enough to stand for a full-length portrait, in Afghan 
dress ; though the compliment pleased him not a little. 
For the rest, his C.B., his promotion, and further 
employment were all the recognition he asked. The 


former had been bestowed upon him early in 1840; the 
latter was yet to come. 

During that same winter Lord Auckland had received 
no less than three tributes from Herat to his gallantry 
and devotion; one from D'Arcy Todd, the others from 
his old comrades and antagonists, Yar Mahomed and 
Shah Kamran. Todd, having heard on all sides the true 
story of that critical assault on the 24th of June, rejoiced 
that the privilege was his of sending to Government the 
first official report of the incident. 

"The presence and skilful advice of Lieut. Pottinger," 
he concluded, "had defeated all the previous efforts of 
the Persians ; but on the occasion of this assault, he may 
be fairly said to have saved the city by his own individual 
gallantry ; and in talking on this subject (in the absence 
of the Minister) this fact is generally allowed by all 
Afghan officers." 

As for the Wazir and Kamran, their letters were of 
much the same tenor. "Lieut. Pottinger," wrote the 
Shah, "performed during the siege most eminent 
services ; never failing to exert himself strenuously on my 
behalf. Such exertions merited the highest reward that 
can be bestowed ; but I had it not in my power to confer 
on him a suitable mark of royal favour. Now, as the 
interests of both States are one, it is needful that your 
Lordship bestow on him a suitable reward. I am most 
particularly anxious on this point." 

It is to be hoped that his anxiety was relieved when he 
learnt that the young Queen of England had graciously 
gazetted her gallant subaltern a Brevet-Major and 
Companion of the Bath. 

Pottinger 's own anxiety increased rather, as he watched 
from afar throughout his year of drudgery and stagna- 
tion the slow oncoming of the inevitable at Herat ; and 


that through deliberate disregard of his hard-won 
experience, his urgent advice. 

News wandered leisurely down to Calcutta, arriving 
months after the event. But, in the fullness of time, 
it did arrive : and thus, from occasional letters, from 
newspapers, and talks with Lord Auckland, he learnt how 
Yar Mahomed cheerfully carried on his double game, in 
defiance of treaty; how John Login had won so great 
favour with all the royal household that the ladies called 
him "brother," and Kamran was persuaded to ride 
abroad with his friend the " Hakeem Sahib," after 
eighteen months of confinement in the Citadel; how 
Abbott and Shakspear had been despatched on separate 
missions to Khiva, where they hoped to prevent a clash 
with Russia by procuring the liberation of her slaves ; 
and how in spite of Yar Mahomed's secret efforts to 
thwart them both missions proved a triumph of courage 
and character worthy of England's best traditions. 

On the whole, Pottinger sympathized with Mac- 
naghten's change of front towards Herat. He believed 
that nothing short of an armed force at its gates would 
check Yar Mahomed's propensity for political flirtation. 
But the Home Government had begun to call in question 
Lord Auckland's entire Afghan policy ; and Sir Jasper 
Nicolls, now Commander-in-Chief, was so frankly dis- 
gusted with the whole affair that no further demand for 
troops was likely to receive his sanction. Reliefs had 
already been despatched to Kabul : that must suffice. 

Wherefore Lord Auckland pursued undiscouraged the 
old futile policy of conciliation. By way of beginning 
the year 1840 with a clean slate, and proving his recog- 
nition of the Wazir's past services (in defence of his own 
country !), it had pleased him to send Yar Mahomed, as 
New Year gift, an assurance of free pardon for all 


offences against treaty committed before the arrival of 
his letter at Herat; coupled with a hope that his Lord- 
ship's leniency might have a good effect on the future 
conduct of his ally, in name, if not in fact. 

To Yar Mahomed, this mark of generosity argued 
weakness rather than strength. It reached Herat in 
February ; and not until many months later did Lord 
Auckland learn that, in January when 100,000 of 
British money had been poured into the bottomless coffers 
of Herat Yar Mahomed had induced Kamran to assure 
the Shah of Persia that his very faithful servants merely 
tolerated the English Envoy from expediency; that, 
although the latter was far from niggardly, their true 
hopes rested, as always, in the Asylum of Islam. At the 
same time the Wazir had written, on his own account, 
to the Russian Ambassador in Tehran, requesting that 
a Russian Agent be sent at once to Herat. 

Lord Auckland's feelings, on the revelation of this 
double act of perfidy, are not on record. But the word 
of pardon had gone forth ; and these trifling delinquencies 
must be overlooked with the rest. 

Yar Mahomed, discomposed for the moment by the 
untoward accident of discovery, professed unbounded 
gratitude for his Lordship's clemency ; and in practical 
proof thereof, declared that if Todd would advance him 
20,000 to equip a force, he would at once expel the 
Persians from Ghorian. 

The bait took. 

Todd, strangely credulous, and anxious to please Mac- 
naghten, advanced the money ; while Yar Mahomed 
amazed at this fresh proof of Feringhi weakness wrote 
at once to his friend the Persian General that although 
the British Agent was urging an attack on Ghorian, 
Persia need have no fear for the result. None the less 


did zealous preparations go forward under the eye of 
Todd, who never understood his man as Pottinger had 
done. Then at the last, when all was ready, Yar 
Mahomed, the invincible, gravely put forward a frivolous, 
yet ingenious, pretext against the venture ; and the whole 
scheme fell to the ground. 

Todd may well have felt foolish ; while the Wazir 
laughed up his sleeve at a forbearance which it seemed 
would be stretched to the utmost length, sooner than 
relations should be ruptured between England and Herat. 

In due time, news of this flagrant manoeuvre found its 
way to Calcutta ; and Pottinger realizing to the full Yar 
Mahomed's contemptuous elation felt impelled to offer 
a grave word of warning. In addition, he declared him- 
self ready to return at once to Herat and do his utmost 
to mend matters, if he were permitted to throw over- 
board, once for all, the fatal policy of conciliation. 

For answer he was politely told that Government saw 
no reason to change its policy ; that he need not concern 
himself about Herat affairs, as Lord Auckland had already 
proposed him to Macnaghten for service on the frontier 
of Turkestan. None the less was the Governor-General 
moved to write his mind strongly in respect of the great 
extension given by Major Todd to the system of pecuniary 
advances to the Wazir. These were, in future, to be dis- 
continued ; the Herat subsidy being fixed at the rate of 
2,500 a month. 

And what of D'Arcy Todd he who had so ardently 
craved political distinction? 

In November '39 he had written in high elation, to 
his brother Fred, of his permanent appointment at Herat, 
on a salary of 2000 rupees a month. " You will, dearest 
Fred, agree with me that I am a very fortunate fellow," 
he had concluded, in the fullness of his content. Yet 


February found him writing to that same brother in quite 
another strain. 

News of his father's death had stirred his sensitive 
nature to its depths; and he was learning now, from 
painful experience, the truth of Pottinger's quiet remark 
that hopes did not flourish in the soil of Herat. Of a 
more impressionable and less resolute temper than the 
younger man, he had found the insidious influence of 
environment harder to resist. Though blest with such 
inspiriting companionship as Pottinger had never known, 
his lamp of the spirit had waxed so dim that almost the 
light within him was darkness. His letter is a veritable 
cry from the depths. 

" I have little time to brood over private sorrow. I 
live in a whirl of constant employment and interruption, 
and my public duties occupy my thoughts night and day, 
to the exclusion, I fear, of much that is of higher im- 
portance. Such is the effect of ' things that are seen ' 
. . . unless our spiritual eyes are enlightened by the 
grace of God. 

" I have placed myself in a false position by grasping 
at the high places of the world. . . . Fred, pray for 
me ! I have preached to others, and yet I feel myself 
a castaway. . . . My life is one long neglect of spiritual 
things, of hardness of heart. Having eyes, I see not. 
Having ears, I hear not. All this, I know, will give 
you exquisite pain . . . and these reflections should send 
me to my knees. But I cannot pray. . . . All is dark- 
ness before me. The world and the world's love absorb 

past and present ; and the future But I cannot go 

on in this vein. . . . 

" May God bless you, dearest of brothers. Do not 
believe one word of what you may see in the newspapers. 
Our situation is pleasant, and we are quito ns safe as 

FF 2 


people who walk down Oxford Street in a thunder- 
storm! " 

Two months later, he wrote in a more hopeful strain : 
" All is quiet here. We are on the best possible terms 
with the authorities of the place; and I believe Yar 
Mahomed Khan is beginning to understand that honesty 
is the best policy : but I have had no easy task of it to 
keep my ground. . . ." 

Scarcely had that letter been dispatched, when the 
Persian and Russian invitations sent in January came 
suddenly to light. So little did Todd understand the 
nature of his foe in friend's clothing. 

From that time onward the task of keeping his ground 
grew more difficult and more costly, month by month. 
Rupees were poured out like water on a soil that yielded 
no fruit. Where Pottinger had spent thousands, Todd 
spent lakhs : and still Yar Mahomed ceased not from 
demanding advances, and again more advances, on behalf 
of schemes that were nominally for the people's benefit; 
actually, for his own. And still he ceased not from 
secret "conversations" with Mahomed Shah; for dread 
of Persia had long since been extinguished by the worse 
dread of an infidel yoke, engendered and nourished by 
the sweeping ramifications of British negotiation and 

Wherefore, when the Ghorian affair put an end to 
advances, the old hatred of Feringhi interference revived, 
and grew apace; so that, in August 1840, Kamran in- 
formed his friend, John Login, that but for his royal 
protection, not one among them had been left alive. 
The fall of Khelat, followed by the apparent success of 
Dost Mahomed in the Hindu Kush, had lifted the Wazir 
to fresh heights of daring. He threatened Kandahar; 
and, but for the Amir's timely surrender, would un- 


doubtedly have used that threat for further extortion. 
As it was, he kept quiet for a space ; so that Todd found 
leisure to breathe uneasily enough, and to wonder what 
would be the next move. 

In January 1841 it came. 

By that time the Duranis round Kandahar had grown 
restless to the verge of rebellion ; and again Yar Mahomed 
bethought him of that city. Secretly and suddenly, he 
sent a deputation to the Persian Government at Meshed, 
suggesting a combined attack ; demanding money for 
expenses ; and promising, by way of prelude, to expel the 
British from Herat. 

This glaring act of perfidy at last brought matters to 
a climax. Todd rightly felt that to let it pass unrebuked 
would be fatally lowering to British prestige; while yet 
the bogey of conciliation hampered his every act and 
word. By way of compromise, he announced, on the 
1st of February, that Kamran's monthly allowance would 
be withheld till the pleasure of Government were known ; 
and quietly awaited the storm. 

Both Afghans were fairly taken aback by this sudden 
display of strength where they had hitherto found " a 
mush of concession." The Wazir excused himself on 
the plausible plea that British tactics in Afghanistan 
made him fearful for his country's ultimate fate; and 
artfully parried Todd's blow by offering, on certain con- 
ditions, to allow of a British garrison at Herat. 

Again he had cunningly baited his hook. Todd knew 
well that this was Macnaghten's dearest wish : but the 
conditions, backed by a string of arrogant demands, made 
him give pause. These included immediate payment of 
two lakhs ; a larger allowance ; advances on loan ; pay- 
ment of his personal debts (two lakhs) and a written 
assurance of Herat's future independence demands no 


British Envoy could possibly concede on his own 

Todd loth to refuse agreed to pay the two lakhs, 
if Yar Mahomed would send his son, as guarantee, to 
Fort Ghirisk near Kandahar, there to await Government 
sanction and to escort the garrison up to Herat. But 
guarantees were not in the bond : and Yar Mahomed, 
relying partly on Todd's eagerness, partly on growing 
Durani unrest, ventured the bold ultimatum; immediate 
payment or withdrawal of the Mission from Herat. 

For once he had pushed his insolence too far. To 
withdraw the Mission was a grave step ; but Todd be- 
lieved and Login no less that submission to payment 
enforced by threat were sheer disgrace to the name of 
Englishmen; an act outside the pale of consideration. 
Wherefore, to the Wazir's amazement and genuine alarm, 
Todd sent answer that the Mission would leave Herat at 

Their departure was prompt and unopposed ; though 
Yar Mahomed, in his anger, came near to murdering 
the'm all before they left. 

In the city, when the news was known, violent excite- 
ment prevailed. The people took up arms; guns were 
fired off in all directions ; a dense crowd, friendly and 
unfriendly, thronged about the usual gate of departure. 
But Todd's party three British officers and three hun- 
dred retainers went quietly out by another gate. And 
so an end of that noble, but mistaken Mission to Herat. 

They made their way in safety toward Kandahar ; and 
Yar Mahomed, increasingly alarmed, sent after them 
such a letter as he well knew how to write : a letter that 
should shield him from blame, by proving that his friends 
the British officers had causelessly taken offence. 

"Thou departedst and my assembly was broken up. 


My assembly and ray heart were alike broken up by thee !" 
Such was the burden of his lament, followed by elabor- 
ately skilful self-justification ; and, in conclusion, more 
outpourings of personal grief. "Oh, brother, what has 
happened, that you have so quickly given up the fruit 
of your own toil? If I deserve punishment, chastise 
me : if kindness, let it be displayed. Oh, my brother 
and friend, why this departure and this haste? You 
might at least have spoken of the matter, have weighed 
the pros and cons, and then have gone. Now wherever 
you may be, God be with you." 

Thus Yar Mahomed, arch-liar and traitor : but his 
impassioned lamentation evoked no answer from D'Arcy 
Todd. Arrived at Kandahar, he halted his little party ; 
and there awaited, with equanimity, Lord Auckland's 
judgment on his decision. 

If he had any misgiving, it was on the score of patience 
and forbearance carried too far. But his news reached 
Lord Auckland at a singularly inopportune moment. He 
knew though Todd could not that England and Persia 
were on the eve of settling those differences which alone 
gave importance to Yar Mahomed's intrigues ; and he 
was fairly exasperated by a rupture that would cast ridi- 
cule on his entire Afghan policy, by proving to all India 
that Herat feared British intervention more sincerely 
than Persian conquest. To a friend, he wrote : " I am 
writhing in anger and bitterness over Major Todd's con- 
duct at Herat." In fact he the calm and cautious 
fairly lost his temper, as even Governor-Generals will. 
Without waiting for a word of explanation or defence, 
he repudiated and condemned the entire transaction ; dis- 
missed Todd from political employment, and remanded 
him, with disgrace, to his regiment in India. 

It apparently mattered nothing to Lord Auckland that 


the Mission left Herat unsullied; for unhappily, at that 
moment, success was the one thing needful. Had Todd 
beaten Yar Mahomed with his own weapons, undiscovered 
he had been lauded and honoured. Since he could not 
so demean himself, he reaped censure and disgrace. 

As for Todd, he was amazed and stricken to the heart 
by Lord Auckland's injustice, his own degradation and 
the shattering of his dearest ambition in life. 

"This affliction," he wrote to the brother who shared 
his heart and his hope " for it is an affliction to be held 
up to the scorn of men as a demented coward was doubt- 
less intended for some wise purpose. I have set up many 
idols and worshipped them with mad devotion ; but they 
have been cast down before me by an Invisible Hand ; 
and I have been taught that God will not brook a rival 
in the heart of man." 

Thus the wheel had come full circle : and all was as 
it had been there years before ; save that a grand total 
of 200,000 had been paid by India as the price of a 
friendship never secured. Todd found characteristic 
consolation in the thought that the money might be 
regarded as having been spent "in the great cause of 
humanity " ; though it is to be feared that the bulk of 
it went rather to establish and strengthen that personifi- 
cation of inhumanity Yar Mahomed Khan. He had 
proven, triumphantly, the old Indian saying : " Great is 
the power of the white man : greater the power of a lie." 
For three years India's treasury had been heavily 
burdened to ensure his goodwill without avail. 

Small wonder, then, if Eldred Pottinger musing on 
the first phase of his Afghan service so untimely ended 
were tempted to believe that his own years of effort and 
endurance had also been of no avail. That he was not 
justified in this belief is certain : for who is there so 


perfect in knowledge that he shall dare to say of any 
honest work It was in vain. 

Let it be rather said of Pottinger, as of Todd -" A 
spirit goes out of the man who means execution, which 
outlives the most untimely ending." 

In the unequal duel with Yar Mahomed both English- 
men were foredoomed to fail. But if little had been 
achieved politically, there remained the fact that much 
misery and cruelty had been checked; that trade and 
agriculture had been revived ; the population trebled, and 
the character of the British nation raised as it had been 
raised nowhere else in Afghanistan. Moreover, Pot- 
tinger's geographical and political Memoir, had, in Lord 
Auckland's opinion, materially increased Government 
knowledge and understanding of its own immediate 
theatre of action, the trans-Indus Borderland. 

Nor can the effect of a man's work on his own soul be 
justly overlooked : and for Eldred Pottinger those years 
of action, endurance and responsibility had been, without 
question, the most formative years of his life. He had 
gone forth little more than a boy manly, self-reliant, 
eager for adventure and hazard : he had returned, a man, 
tried many times in the furnace, and proven sterling 
metal throughout ; an implement finely tempered and 
prepared for the larger work, the deeper suffering, that 
still awaited him in that arena of ultimate Nemesis 


THE story of Eldred Pottinger's return to Afghanistan, 
of the Kabul disasters, the imprisonment and final 
vengeance, will be told in another volume entitled 


August 8th, 1912. 

Richard Clay <5- Sens, Limited, London and Buttgay 




THIS study of the life of a young Indian student who 
becomes drawn into the revolutionary faction, as a 
result of which he is finally tried for the murder of an English 
officer, is full of narrative as well as of psychological interest. 
The clash between Eastern and Western ideas, and the difficulty 
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a narrative, but every reader, when he turns the last page, will 
feel that the Indian problem has been brought closer to him, 
and with it much food for thought. 

London : CONSTABLE & CO. Ltd., 10 Orange Street, W.C. 



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Author of "The Healers," "Dorothea," etc. 
(2nd Impression) 


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By Mrs. GEORGE WEMYSS, Author of "The Professional Aunt/' 
"People of Popham," "A Lost Interest/' 6/- 

Witb 3 Illustrations in Half-tone, a.nd a. Frontispiece in 
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By R. E. VERNEDE, Author of "Meriel of the Moors/' 
"The Pursuit of Mr, Flaviel/' etc. 6/- 

The June lady is an attractive and original heroine, who, on receiving a 
legacy of a fine old country mansion conceives the notion of gathering 
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With Frontispiece in Colour 

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Author of "The Straw/' "The Key of the Door/' etc. 
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spirited narrative. 

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PR Diver, Katherine Helen Maud 

6007 (Marshall) 

I8H4 The hero of Herat